HOT DOCS ’15: ‘Drawing the Tiger’ is a striking portrait of generational poverty in Nepal

DrawingTheTigerImage copyDRAWING THE TIGER premieres Wednesday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre 4 in Toronto. For additional screenings, click here.

A man knows his fate; he is supposed to be eaten by a tiger. He arranges to be protected and employs armed guards at his wedding. At the wedding, his children ask him what the tiger looks like. He draws it and the tiger leaps off the page and eats him.

This is the Nepalese proverb that sets the tone for Drawing the Tiger, a film shot in Nepal over seven years by Amy Benson and Scott Squire. It’s a film about many things—the caste system, gender, child marriage, education, globalization, poverty—all told through the story of a rural Nepalese family.

This film plants you in the middle of the life of the Darnal family, who are surviving, as eight out of 10 families do in Nepal, on subsistence-based agriculture. Living in grinding poverty and responsible for debts carried throughout generations, the Darnal family does little else but work and attempt to pay off their debts. The film quickly centres around a rare opportunity for the Darnals when their bright daughter Shanta receives a scholarship from an NGO to study in Kathmandu. Instantly, the weight of this decision is felt since she becomes the family’s opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Without wanting to reveal too much, I will say that midway through the film, the Darnal family experiences a sudden tragedy that becomes a defining incident for them and for the film. Drawing the Tiger isn’t a film with many peaks of tension, and no great differences in tone throughout. Woven into the many scenes of physical labour are very candid feelings from its subjects about existence, love, class, family, and responsibility.  It is a striking portrait of a family dealing with the pressures of generational poverty and highlights cultural and economic barriers families face when trying to overcome it. Definitely recommended.

A+

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