PhD student wins international film prize with documentary Mountain, Priest, Son

Mountain Priest Son title

Vaibhav Kaul, a PhD student in the Department of Geography, has won the Echo BRICS Film Festival prize for Best Documentary in Moscow.

Set in a valley in the Indian Himalayas, the film 'Mountain, Priest, Son' focuses on a priest, his wife and his son who survived a great flood in the region. The film explores the family’s hopes and beliefs in the face of dramatic climate change, as well as the intrusion of consumerism and urbanism on the community.

The aim of the Echo BRICS Film Festival is to showcase works of filmmakers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, in order to help people gain a better understanding of the cultures, histories and traditions of the BRICS countries, as five of the major emerging world economies.

Vaibhav created the film with Sheffield-based visual artist John Seddon, and the music for the ethnographic soundtrack was composed by John Ball, the University of Sheffield's World Music Performer in Residence. The project was supported by the Festival of the Mind and co-supported by the Culture, Space and Difference Research Cluster within the department. Vaibhav's interdisciplinary research at the department is being supervised by Dr Matt Watson (social and cultural geography), Dr Julie Jones (climatology), and Dr Darrel Swift (geoscience).

Vaibhav said of his film:

"A geographer's most basic task is to describe places and the processes that create and transform them. 'Mountain, Priest, Son' does exactly that by revealing how unprecedented environmental, cultural and economic changes are coming together to shape lived realities in a sacred Himalayan valley that was ravaged by extreme rainstorms, landslides and floods in the summer of 2013. Through the everyday experiences, beliefs and hopes of a priest, his wife, and their 22-year-old son, the film tries to provide an authentic glimpse into a community's constructions of its own vulnerability and resilience in the face of rapid change. I think such insiders' perspectives on environmental and social risk can help in developing more culturally aware, and therefore more effective, strategies for disaster reduction across the Himalayas and similar settings elsewhere in the Global South."

Talking about the Echo BRICS prize, he added:

"The Best Documentary award comes as quite a surprise! I am deeply touched that the jury appreciated the authenticity and unvarnished aesthetic of our film, and that they recognised its value as a portrait of a place in flux. This honour will certainly help us draw greater attention to the dramatic changes and challenges facing remote mountain communities in the Himalayas and elsewhere in the developing world. I hope that 'Mountain, Priest, Son' and its 2016 prequel 'Facing the Mountain' will one day also be used as learning resources that will encourage many more students and academics to go out to the field and tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time head-on!"

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