Jeremy Snell is a freelance cinematographer and humanitarian photographer who has traveled to over 40 countries to work on projects that bridge cultural divides. But when looking back at the steps (and trips) that led him where he is today, he says there’s one place in particular that influenced his perspective as a filmmaker — Nepal.
Five years after his initial trip to Nepal, Jeremy sat down with us to talk about the three films he made there and how each of them has stuck with him throughout his career.
Why were you initially drawn to Nepal?
I was asked to join a humanitarian trip through India and Nepal with an NGO that helps transition rural communities out of poverty. Then another non-profit asked me to photograph a campaign in India a month later. Rather than go home for the months between, I decided to just stay in Nepal and see what would happen.
Nepal was a country I had always dreamt of exploring. I longed for a meaningful experience there, something that I felt couldn’t be attained on a short trip.
Tell me about your overall time there.
Countless surprises and unexpected circumstances filled my two months. I went to Nepal with the intent of capturing content for only one non-profit and ended up getting hired by three other clients as well. My days consisted of lots of walking and carrying heavy gear, driving through sketchy roads in the countryside, and talking to strangers.
I spent most of my time in the capital, Kathmandu, but was also able to travel to Pokhara in central Nepal and Dhangadhi near the southwestern border. Depending on where I was and what content I was capturing, I would stay in guest houses, cheap hostels, or in the homes of my subjects.
How did you find the stories and subjects for your videos?
I would spend half of my days wandering the streets and villages, looking for interesting subjects and new shared experiences. The temples were especially fascinating to me, so I would spend a lot of time at any I came across. I also visited a lot of retirement homes and community centers. In general, people are very open and welcoming if you approach them with a humble heart.
How did you end up creating “Faces of Nepal” — where did the idea come from, and what was the filming experience like for you?
I had no intention of making my own film, but after looking through my footage and noticing how innately drawn I was to portraiture in Nepal, I decided to create a singular, personal piece.
In crafting the edit for this, I wanted to evoke the same feelings I had experienced when meeting and interacting with such a different and diverse group of people.
I didn’t want to create a cliché recap video of my travels. Instead, my hope was to give the viewer a deeper and broader sense of what humans are like in this part of the world. That said, I obviously knew that what I had captured was not the fullest representation of Nepali culture — from its deep, rural roots to its modernity and complex tourism industry. However, I still felt that my perspective and point of view was something I wanted to share with the world.
Was “David of Nepal” unplanned as well?
“David of Nepal” was the original film I had set out to make in Nepal. I met David, the protagonist of the film, while shooting for the non-profit that brought me to the country, and his passion really inspired me. I thought his personality and conviction would make for a compelling story. I decided to stay in his village after the rest of the non-profit’s team left, and he was kind enough to let me sleep on a futon in his home. During the week I spent in his village, I shadowed his every chore, and we became friends.
This film, though small and imperfect, will always hold a special place in my heart because of David. His selfless love and aspiration continue to remind me of the power that a single individual can have.
What about “Portraits of a Sadhu” — how did that film come about?
After spending a day in the famous Hindu temples of Pashupatinath, I knew I had to come back to capture the experience on camera. I returned the following day with a small DSLR and documented my interactions with the Sadhus.
The Hindu Holy Men are a very misunderstood people. I became obsessed with observing their lifestyle and motivations. The difference between nomadic Sadhus and Sadhus who lingered in urban temples also fascinated me.
I didn’t go into the film with a specific agenda or point of view in mind. Rather, I wanted the day and my interactions with them to guide what I captured. The Sadhus of the temple are bombarded daily by tourists with cameras, so I wanted to be respectful and build a sense of mutual trust with them.
In the end, I ended up interviewing one of the men with whom I had spent most of my time. I wanted to give him a safe space to share about himself and his journey. I didn’t have a translator, so some certain bits probably got lost in translation. But my hope is that those watching will still be able to access his heart and get a sense of who he is.
Why were these stories so important to you?
These were very personal stories — not so much because of the subject matter, but because of the process of creating them and the growth I felt in putting myself in uncomfortable situations.
I essentially traveled alone the entire time and shot and edited these films by myself. Nowadays, when I’m shooting on set with a crew of 30 or more people, I look back on those days in Nepal and can’t help but think that they were what shaped me.
What do you hope these films capture and communicate?
With all of my work, my hope is to transport the viewer into a new way of seeing the world. — to help expand the universe a little bit beyond our individual perspectives.