The Nepal Weekly | June 29, 2021
Almost nine years in the making, Berlin-based immersive journalism studio, NowHere Media’s ambitious docufiction ‘KUSUNDA’ has finally made its World Premiere during the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Centred around the story of the Kusunda tribe, NowHere Media’s volumetric VR film shines a spotlight on the indigenous community’s dying native language by immersing viewers in the lives of Lil Bahadur Kusunda, an 86-yearold Kusunda shaman, and his 15-year-old granddaughter Hema. Set apart by their age difference and lifestyle, the duo provide two different perspectives of Kusunda culture and lifestyle.
While Lil Bahadur’s tales revolve around his childhood in the forest and his life as a hunter-gatherer, his granddaughter, Hema’s story depicts reflection of culture on the cusp of extinction.
Brought to life via a combination of breathtaking volumetric video and digital animation, the VR film bagged the top prize in the immersive category at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival that includes $10,000 cash prize.
The Brainchild of journalists Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke, the founders of NowHere Media, the KUSUNDA project started back in 2012 while they were working on a video about endangered languages in Nepal.
“It was around that time when we came across Gyani Maiya Kusunda, the last remaining speaker of the Kusunda language,” explains Parameswaran. Initially, Gyani Maiya was to become the protagonist of the entire VR experience.
“Sadly she passed away days before we went into production,” added Parameswaran. Gyani Maiya breathed her last on January 25, 2020, which came as a huge blow to the Kusunda language revitalisation project.”She was the key resource person.
Thanks to her, we were able to run Kusunda language classes at Lamahi, Dang,” informed researcher Uday Raj Ale, who along with Gyani Maiya had published an elaborate dictionary of Kusunda language.
Today, Ale has been continuing the language classes with 48-year-old Kamala Khatri Kusunda, the last known fluent speaker of the moribund language.
Thanks to Ale and Khatri’s attempt at continuing the language classes, NowHere Media were able to find their new protagonist in 15-year-old Hema, who was at the time enrolled in the class.
“She (Hema) is one of the brightest students we have.
Her passion for the Kusunda language is unparalleled. She truly believes that she can resuscitate her dying culture,” says Ale. Her zeal and enthusiasm inspired the filmmakers to continue on with their VR project. “Hema really wanted the world to speak a few words in Kusunda while learning more about their culture. I really wish for her to see that people in the US, in Germany, are now doing just that,” shared Parameswaran.