Manakamna unfolds in sixteen-millimeter film, set entirely in a cable car in Nepal. Two faces appear, an elderly Nepalese man and a young boy in a baseball cap; the lush green forests of the foothills give way to a gentle climb. The gondola sways slightly as the pair sit silently in the mountain light. We slowly approach the drop off station, the  young boy now alternating between sleep and wakefulness. The camera set on a single exposure turns everything to silhouettes.The film cuts and a new face makes her journey up, a women in a sari with an offering of flowers in a red plastic basket.

Each journey is 11 minutes long, a 400-foot roll of 16mm film. The documentary is made of 11 such journeys and it passes no commentary on the inhabitants of this cable car. Saving itself from the droning over-explained over-simplified often orientalist narrations of many contemporary documentaries (and news photo-captions). It leaves the thinking to the eyes, leaving us with a wholly authentic, though greatly magnified sense of participation and something deeply photographic.


It is worth mentioning that the film is made by two camera yielding anthropologists (Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez) at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnographic Lab. SEL describe themselves as follows:

The Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) is an experimental laboratory at Harvard University that promotes innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography. It uses analog and digital media to explore the aesthetics and ontology of the natural and unnatural world. Harnessing perspectives drawn from the arts, the social and natural sciences, and the humanities, the SEL encourages attention to the many dimensions of the world, both animate and inanimate, that may only with difficulty, if it all, be rendered with propositional prose. Most works produced in the SEL take as their subject the bodily praxis and affective fabric of human and animal existence.

These are guys responsible for Leviathan and Sweetgrass
The team greatly recommends that you to watch this documentary, especially if you enjoy a narrow slice of Nepali life with your morning cup of tea. Search for it long enough on google and you will find it 😉

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