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Grad's film to debut at women's film festival

By Tracey Mills | Oct. 24, 2005

What began in a graduate course for her women's studies degree has turned into a documentary film for Lisa Hoffe. Trailblazing: The Women of Nepal's Trekking Industry tells the story of the Three Sisters Adventure Trekking company based in Pokhara, Nepal. Shot in the beautiful Annapurna region of the Himalayan mountains, the film provides a glimpse into a world that few of us living in the west ever get to experience - the struggle for independence and identity in a male-dominated adventure tourism industry and conservative culture.

The inspiration to pursue such an ambitious project was a combination of wanting to contribute to the women's movement and the improvement of women's lives on an international scale while utilizing her media skills. Ms. Hoffe has more than 10 years experience as a broadcast journalist working for CBC radio and television and other Canadian networks. In 2003, she was also one of 46 graduate students from across the country to be awarded an Innovative Research Award from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for those interested in doing their fieldwork in developing countries, which helped with the logistics of traveling to Nepal.

“I focused on Nepal because I knew the CIDA proposal would be a highly competitive process. As part of my proposal I also had to find a host organization to sponsor me while in the country and collaborate with on ideas,” she added. “That led me to a feminist non-governmental organization called Sancharika Samuha or the Women Communicator's Forum - a group of volunteer female media professionals dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and non-stereotypical portrayals of women.”

Ms. Hoffe left for Nepal in November 2003. Upon arrival she met with her host organization and started brainstorming ideas for her project. She does not remember how she came to hear of the Three Sisters, but she knew from the start that they were a perfect fit for her project.

“I was looking for an inspiring project about women who were looking to change the lives of those around them for the better,” she remarked. “Working with the sisters was quite inspiring. They are building capacity for people in the industry and giving women a chance to earn their own money, which in turn gives them the independence to make their own choices.”

Located in the city of Pokhara, an eight-hour drive from the capital city of Kathmandu, the Chhetri sisters run the first and only female-owned and operated trekking agency catering to female tourists. They also run a training program for female guides which operates twice a year to coincide with the trekking seasons in the fall and spring. (www.3sistersadventure.com)

Shooting got underway in early February 2004 after all arrangements and logistics had been established. The film tracks the month-long training program as well as the challenges faced by trainees as they head out on the trails as guides. From start to finish the project took seven months to complete, a little longer than expected, but well worth every moment according to Ms. Hoffe.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to see an inspiring project through to completion and so glad that I was able to use my media skills to assemble a formative story that can act as a communications tool for the sisters and raise consciousness about the social situation of women in Nepal,” she said.

“The film does not show women as victims of their circumstance, instead they are empowered. It is my hope that people will feel uplifted after seeing it.”

Copies of the film have already been sent back to Nepal both to Ms. Hoffe's host organization and to the sisters. It is her hope that the film will help the sisters promote the work they are doing acting as both an awareness and educational tool.

“For me it is so much more than just a master's research project. It has a significant outreach component into the community. As time passes we will see how they are able to use the film to help themselves more.”

“And on another note, I owe so much to my supervisor Marilyn Porter in Women's Studies who inspired me to go out and seek opportunities like this. And to Memorial's Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELT) who did all the post-production work on the film. Without their support, I probably would still be looking for an editor to finish the project.”

As for future plans for the film, things are just getting started. On Saturday, Oct. 22, the film will premiere at the St. John's International Women's Film and Video Festival at 4 p.m. at the LSPU Hall in St. Johnís. This is one of many festivals that Ms. Hoffe plans to pursue to get her film out into the public arena. She was recently invited to be a featured premiere at the South Asian International Film Festival to take place in New York City from December 7-11, 2005.

“I feel like I am trailblazing as well because I am entering this whole new area of film and independent production. I hope to be inspired by the pioneering spirit of the women I feature.”

For more on the film and filmmaker, visit www.trailblazing.ca.