‘Even When I Fall’ is a feature documentary film directed by Sky Neal and Kate McLarnon and produced by Elhum Shakerifar. They met while studying Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths in 2005/06.
‘Even When I Fall’ tells the incredible story of Saraswoti and Sheetal, trafficking survivors who reclaim skills that once came at a high cost: they were slaves in Indian circuses – sold as children. Now freed, together they form Nepal’s first circus. An intimate, beautiful film that harnesses the visual power of circus to give a unique perspective into the complex world of human trafficking.
The film was nominated for the Discovery Award in the 2017 British Independent Film Awards.
Working with the performers of Circus Kathmandu over a six-year period, some from the moment of rescue and through the inception of the circus company, we chose to follow a process of filmmaking which had collaborative storytelling at its heart.
Early on we came across the challenge of how unfamiliar documentary filmmaking was to them, and how difficult it was for the young people to articulate their feelings to us, even though the desire to share was there. It was important for us to find a method they could relate to – that included them. As they discovered that performance could be their medium for both personal and political change, the film inevitably followed suit. Together, we looked at ways we could harness their skill and expression to help us to tell their story. The switch between the fantastic and the mundanity of daily life is one they make quite naturally as circus performers, and one we’ve tried to capture in the film.
As we got to know Saraswati and Sheetal, the two main protagonists, we decided together that we didn’t want to create a documentary that focused only on the problems faced by poverty-stricken Nepalis or the graphic horrors of victimhood, but instead to tell a story of resilience and transformation. We wanted to focus on a lesser-told story – the experience of life after rescue. There is the collateral damage visible within families and communities – the stigma, the loss of childhood and education – but also the insidiousness of trafficking in the midst of so many problems and the way it hides in plain sight – offering safety, salvation, and promise to desperate parents. We wanted to be able to represent the pain and guilt we saw carried by a mother who sent her daughter away with an aunt – only hearing her harrowing story 10 years later.
But as well as looking harder at the entrenched reality of trafficking and its repercussions, beyond anything else we see this film as a universal story of survival and change, of renewal and ownership. Saraswoti and Sheetal are inspiring, funny, brave and full of strength. It is thanks to their trust and patience that this is a film that portrays the impact of modern slavery on the lives of a small handful of individuals, in the microcosms of family and friendship.
The story of trafficking is complex and the road to tackling it is the same. The film we’ve made is not black and white but it gives us a glimpse into the changing lives of some amazing young men and women, whose skill and resilience we found incredible to witness. Instead of great declarations, we have awkward silences, undercurrents of memory and distress, the slow building of trust and resolve. And the occasional gravity-defying backflip.
Even When I Fall is in select cinemas from Friday 13 April. For more information and full listings, visit: www.evenwhenifall.com
Sky has worked since 2006 as a documentary filmmaker and visual ethnographer. She also has a rich background in the circus and performing arts industry, and worked professionally as an aerialist in contemporary circus.
Kate has worked since 2006 as an ethnographer and documentary filmmaker. Kate’s work has been broadcast in the UK, has been shortlisted for an IMTV Music Video Award and she has had short films shown in galleries and festivals worldwide.
Elhum is a BAFTA-nominated producer and recent recipient of the BFI Vision Award, producing and distributing documentaries through her company Hakawati with the core ethos that a good story is all in the telling.