Students Staff

23 February 2016

IndieFest Award for Essex documentary maker

But They Can't Break Stones Trailer from Film Studies University Of Essex on Vimeo.

Film-maker Elena Dirstaru has won an Award of Merit from the IndieFest Film Awards for her thought-provoking documentary But They Can’t Break Stones which focuses on the treatment of women in Nepal. Elena is a PhD student at Essex and Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies. The Award of Merit recognises filmmakers for notable artistic and technical aspects of their projects.

We caught up with Elena, who also completed her BA and MA at Essex, to talk about her film and the award.

How does it feel to get this recognition from the IndieFest Awards?

Any kind of recognition is absolutely fantastic - especially for these issues that get little to no coverage in the media. I'm very happy that this film is helping raise awareness for women's rights and tells more people about the work of Radha Paudel, the prominent human rights activist and founder of Action Works Nepal. She really is an incredibly inspiring activist who risks her life to help other people, and she deserves all the recognition she can get.

Can you tell us a little bit about the documentary But they can’t break stones?

The documentary film was part of my MA dissertation. In Nepal, there’s a tradition called chaupadi. Women who practise it cannot stay in their homes and must sleep in sheds or outbuildings while on their period or when they are pregnant. A lot of people die in very extreme conditions as a result of it. I found an activist in Nepal and she helped me a lot with the making of the film. During the filming process of the documentary, I went from village to village and interviewed villagers and filmed them. It was a very special experience for me. I have never been outside of Europe before and it seemed very crazy at first to go to a country where I don’t speak the language to make a film. But I am glad I did and I believe the result is a film which really provokes people to think.

What is the idea behind this documentary that you want to convey?

The main idea behind this documentary is the fact that we have to raise awareness for all these issues and no one really knows about what is happening. Trying to read about the tradition and to get to know more about it before I arrived in Nepal was very difficult because there wasn’t a lot written about it. However a lot of people are trying to make it better and I am hoping that with this film more people will know about it and the conditions in Nepal will be able to change.

What inspired you to become a film-maker?

Before I came here I had no idea I would be interested in documentary films specifically. I started university with an open mind and wanting to do any kind of films. I took a class in documentary at Essex and I really enjoyed it because I think it’s a way of documenting history and keeping it real. The Essex interdisciplinary approach gives students a good balance between theory and practice. The academics are also very friendly and students can make use of top notch equipment in the department.

Has your time at Essex helped you as a film-maker?

Studying film at Essex is a really good experience for aspiring documentary film makers as it is amazing how you can meet so many people who can help with your work. Nic Blower, who teaches film production, spent months helping me with the editing process and editorial decisions, as well as advising me every step of the way during production. The cinematographers Esteban Gimpelewicz and Rowan Jacobs who came to Nepal with me were also both Film Studies graduates from Essex. They were so passionate about the project and put a lot of work into this film.

I was also helped so much by Ulasha Gurung, a BA Film Studies undergraduate at Essex, who subtitled and translated the film and recent Essex graduate Agnes Toomus who supported me with researching the film. We were all students who worked on this film because we wanted to and really cared about it. To have this kind of environment is invaluable.

You’ve now completed a number of films which have received an incredibly positive response. Why is it that you chose to dedicate yourself to films focusing on women rights?

The focuses of my projects have always been women’s right and the way women are represented on screen. It started in my third year of undergraduate study when I was doing my dissertation and I chose to focus on Gypsy women’s rights in Romania. After that I became more interested in women’s rights across the world and I finally decided to do a film about it in Nepal. I feel like women’s rights as a topic is not being written about a lot and I think that it deserves to be better known. I am also trying to raise awareness about treatment of poor women in different parts of the world, particularly in Nepal.

Do you have other projects? What about your future plans?

I am currently working on my PhD, which is about the art of interview, how interviews are informed by society and how changes in society reflect changes in interviews as well. In the future I would definitely like to make more documentary films about human rights.

...more news releases