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Where EAST meets the Northwest

STRENGTH AND RESILIENCE. Julie Bridghamís The Sari Soldiers presents Nepalís civil war through the eyes of six women as they are swept up by the conflict between the Royal Nepal Army, Maoist rebels, and pro-democracy activists. (Photos courtesy of Butter Lamp Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #42 (October 21, 2008), page 9.

Inspiring film gives voice to silenced

The Sari Soldiers

Directed by Julie Bridgham

Produced by Julie Bridgham and Ramyata Limbu

Distributed by Women Make Movies

By Marie Lo

Julie Bridghamís The Sari Soldiers presents Nepalís civil war through the eyes of six women as they are swept up by the conflict between the Royal Nepal Army, Maoist rebels, and pro-democracy activists. "Women are oppressed by both the government and by societyís view of them," says Kanti, a Maoist rebel. No more so than during times of war.

The Sari Soldiers powerfully documents the heightened brutality against women during war and their strength and resilience in fighting back. Large numbers of women participated in the armed struggle: Forty percent of the Maoist rebels were female, and the National Army created a womenís division to fight them.

Shot during a three-year period, the documentary exposes the human-rights abuses of the 10-year war that left more than 12,000 people dead and 100,000 displaced. In 2005, Nepal had the highest number of recorded disappearances.

In contrast to the ubiquitous images of Nepal ó the majestic Himalayas and Mount Everest ó viewers encounter empty courtyards, skeletal bombed-out buildings, and busy streets packed with protesters. Against this backdrop, six women from different castes and on opposite sides of the struggle are followed: Devi, an "untouchable" who speaks out against the rape, torture, and murder of her niece by the National Army only to have her 15-year old daughter, Maina, kidnapped as retaliation; Kranti, who joined the Maoists to fight the oppression of her people, but whose heart breaks every time she must leave her children to go underground; Krishna, a village leader and monarchist who successfully leads her fellow women villagers against the Maoists rebels; Rajani, a cadet in the Royal Nepal Army who joins to serve in her brotherís stead after he is killed in combat; Mandira, a human-rights lawyer who helps Devi in her search for justice; and Ram Kumari, a student political activist who remains defiant despite violent police crackdowns.

What haunts the film is Deviís daughter, Maina, whose grainy photos reveal a gentle face and solemn eyes, and it is Deviís search for her daughter that propels the filmís narrative trajectory. We see her empty bed. We watch her father caress a purse she made. Her absence is palpable and everywhere. Mainaís disappearance becomes representative of the many unnamed people who disappeared during the civil war. Deviís refusal to be silenced is a testament to sacrifice and the transformative power of witnessing and speaking out.

Often women are shown as simply victims of war and violence. The Sari Soldiers presents them as active participants in the fight for justice and human rights. Though these women are on opposite sides of the conflict, Bridghamís even hand allows each woman to tell her story on her own terms. The result is a moving portrait of women during war and their struggles as mothers, daughters, sisters, and soldiers.

The Sari Soldiers is part of the Northwest Film Centerís Global Concerns and Human Rights film series. The documentary will screen Thursday, October 23 at 7:00pm at the Northwest Film Centerís Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, located at 1219 S.W. Park Avenue. To learn more, call (503) 221-1156 or visit <www.nwfilm.org>. To learn more, visit <www.sarisoldiers.com>.