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Julie Bridgham of ‘Sari Soldiers’ comes to Browning Cinema

Jordan Gamble | Friday, November 14, 2008

Nepal has fascinated director and producer Julie Bridgham ever since her elementary school principal talked about doing Peace Corp work there in the 1960s. Bridgham comes to Notre Dame’s Browning Cinema on Friday with her documentary “Sari Soldiers,” about women fighting on both sides of Nepal’s brutal 10-year civil war, which killed nearly 13,000 and displaced at least 100,000 by its end in 2006. The film won Bridgham the 2008 Nestor Almendros Prize for courage and commitment in human rights filmmaking at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Bridgham traveled with her producer Ramyata Limbu (herself a Nepali woman) for three years through war-torn Nepal, following the lives of six women in the struggle between the government of Nepal’s king and the Maoist insurgents. These women included: Devi, whose daughter was kidnapped by the Royal Nepal Army; Maoist Commander Kranti; Royal Nepal Army Officer Rajani; Krishna, a monarchist from a rural community who leads a rebellion against the Maoists; Mandira, a human rights lawyer; and Ram Kumari, a student activist with the hope of helping to reestablish democracy. “There’s a distinct sense of empowerment they feel as women being armed. Many see it as an opportunity to have some kind of power,” said Bridgham in an interview with a reporter from Duke University in 2006, as the footage for the documentary was being assembled. Still, the film’s ultimate message is that if women had their way, most of them would bring a war to its end as soon as possible.Initially, Bridgham was wary about showing the film in Nepal for fear that it would endanger the six protagonists, as she explained in an interview with Saathee Magazine, a publication for the South Asian community in the Carolinas region of the United States. “It was important to all of us that the women felt comfortable having the film shown, and to wait to show it in Nepal until things were more stable. Amazingly, the political climate changed during the course of the filmmaking, and so we have been able to show the film in Nepal, and the women have been very supportive and encouraging of its being widely shown throughout Nepal,” she said.Since first visiting in 1993, Bridgham now calls the country her second home. She spent most of the last six years there, making other documentaries for the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation and the United Nations’ World Food Program as well as the independent features “At the Edge of Sufficient,” about two families in Nepal’s rural region, “Indentured Daughters,” a documentary on Nepali girls sent into bonded labor, and “Children of Hope,” about Nepali orphans given new opportunities through education.  Bridgham, a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, has used her degrees in International Affairs and Environmental studies for projects outside Nepal, crafting documentary series for the BBC, Discovery Channel, and TLC about global issues. Before she got into documentary-making, she worked in Costa Rica on a U.N. environmental project and in Bolivia as a researcher for the Andean Information Network human rights organization. “As individuals, we can make a difference by making sure these issues are made public and that we pressure our governments to hold those responsible accountable,” Bridgham told Saathee Magazine. “I really think that widespread exposure is a key element to making people accountable, but at the end of the day, we need to make sure that the courts follow through on the rule of law, as well as accountability.”Sari Soldiers will run Friday night at 6:30 and 9:30 pm at the Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, with Bridgham scheduled to be present at the screening. Tickets are $3 for students and $5 for faculty and staff. For more information about the film and its director, go to performingarts.nd.edu.