As a production company primarily focused on adventure sports, this movie, Untouchable, is a project stemmed from our fondness of Nepal. Most of our team originally came to Nepal to film a climbing expedition on Annapurna 1 in April, 2015. When the earthquake hit on April 25, our crew switched gears to helping with aid relief. With that, we saw the rawness of this beautiful country in a way adventure sports would never have shown. Collaborating with various adventure athletes from world class paragliding pilots, to ultra-marathoners, to high altitude mountaineers, we found ourselves in the remote regions of Nepal helping those in the epicenter of the earthquake. Which is where this story, Untouchable, all started.
Being adventure athletes ourselves, it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset of following our dreams and living for the present. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing; pursuing happiness for oneself, it’s rather the capacity to also care for others around us that produces a balance. So often we capture moments of adrenaline that last a few seconds, but when we stepped into the lives of these incredible people in the remote mountains of Nepal, life seemed to beautifully slow down. They had nothing, yet they always offered a warm spot by the fire and a cup of tea. This way of life so impacted our team that we knew we had to give something more. After spending over 3 months helping with aid work providing media content to various NGO’s, we went back home with a powerful impression that there were still stories left untold.
Our team spent over two months away from Nepal traveling to various places such as Thailand, Malaysia, Canada and throughout the States working on other projects, but the stories of Nepal still lingered in the back of our minds. In September, Cody Tuttle and his wife were on their way from Canada to Moab, UT to shoot a commercial with Scott Rogers. They stopped in Boise, ID for a night and in a popular Alehouse downtown, started to dream again. There was a specific family that laid heavily on their hearts. Cody had been doing work with a large INGO in the Manaslu region when his team was alerted to a very sick man on the outskirts of the village. With a helicopter coming to pick his team up in a few short hours, they quickly went down to check on him. What they found was alarming. A man laid paralyzed in a small stone house mostly destroyed from the earthquake. His wife, who was 8 months pregnant with her seventh child, knelt by his side doing anything she could to make him more comfortable. It was only a matter of time until his last breath.
Through a series of events, Cody and his team were able to evacuate this man on their helicopter to Kathmandu where a non-profit organization ran by professional paragliding pilots decided to take care of his expenses. Over 4 months he stayed there with his eldest son until they brought him back to his home which is a 45 minute helicopter ride or a 5-8 day trek over high mountain passes. Because he was not well enough to walk on his own, they flew him back. A number of our friends went with him and captured some beautiful moments of his family reuniting. But the story didn’t end there.
By the time our full production team got back to Nepal in October, this man had been home for over two weeks. During this time political unrest that so often plagues this country, escalated. The borders to India were blocked consequently cutting off many resources including fuel. Transportation prices sky rocketed and our team made the decision to make the 5 day hike in. To find a helicopter with fuel was becoming increasingly difficult. We were determined to find a way to get there as we knew that this was an opportunity to give these people a voice. What we didn’t mention before was that most of Nepal is still under the confounds of an outdated caste system. This family is of the lowest caste, the Dalit’s, or more commonly known as the Untouchables. The effects of the caste system is generational. With a shifting social structure, however, Nepal is making steps toward human equality. This is the exciting part of our story as it really is a tale of hope and freedom.
It took two days on an overloaded bus sitting on roofs, floors, and beside chickens and a bumpy jeep ride with half our team sitting in the open back getting jostled for hours to make it to Dharapani (6,100 ft elevation) where we would start hiking. Once in there, our team of 8 consisting of a production crew of 5 plus 3 Nepali locals who would help carry camera gear, guide, and interpret began the long trek in. Over the next 3 days we climbed through the low humid jungles filled with large Silverback monkeys to the rugged drier climates of the Himalayas. Every backdrop was breathtaking; every turn heightening our adventurous senses.
We stopped in the small village of Bimthang (approx 12,000 ft) for a full day to acclimatize before making the push over Larke Pass (17,000 ft). There we recharged camera batteries, washed clothes, and prepared for the long day ahead of us. Starting at 6am, our goal was to summit the Pass around noon, and make it to the village of Samdo shortly after dark. In typical production crew fashion, we stopped a number of times to shoot time lapses, donkeys crossing the pass, yaks meandering over the ridges, and classic epic summit shots. We stumbled into Samdo some time after dark where at least one of our team members fell asleep during dinner before collapsing into bed.
From there it was a short day down to Samagaun where we would stay for over a week to film with this incredible family. But wait, we didn’t even know if they would remember or receive us. The day we arrived, Cody went down with two of our Nepali friends to visit the family. Pema, the mother, had tears in her eyes when she saw him wondering why a group of Westerner’s would take the time not only to trek all the way out there, but even care in the first place. Cody explained that we wanted to tell their story to help shift the mindset of the caste system and give others hope throughout the country. She said she was honored to help.
The next morning our whole crew walked down the muddy village streets, through the freshly harvested fields, over the meandering stream to the small home this large family shared. Mountains towered over us - to the left the border of China laid within its peaks, to the right loomed Manaslu, a renowned 8,000 meter peak. In the back of our minds we thought of climbing the rugged terrain, setting up highlines between the peaks, and flying the thermals - everything we would normally be doing in this setting. However, the beautiful family before us shifted our focus. This trip was not for us.
Over 10 days we captured the moments of this family in their daily lives. We constantly asked what they needed and what we couldn’t get within the village, we collaborated with people down in Kathmandu to have supplies brought up. Winter was coming soon and none of them had warm jackets, shoes, gloves or hats. They had three blankets to share between all of them and their house still hadn’t been fully rebuilt since the earthquake. Our last day we acquired enough tin roofing to build the rest of their roof.
Debriefing with each team member including our local friends, this experience was not only powerful, but life changing. That family easily wiggled their way into our hearts, which has only fueled our determination to create an incredible documentary out of our time spent there. Speaking with locals, NGO’s and reading through our research, education is the overarching theme of helping those especially poor or of low caste to change their circumstances. Those who are not educated do not have the chance to have a voice of influence within the political, social and economic realm of the country. We want to give that voice. With revenue accrued from this film, our team is committing to donate a large percentage toward scholarship programs for Pema’s children as well as other promising children who do not have the chance otherwise.
Words: Cherise Tuttle