Caterpillars and Mushrooms

Nepal has a subterranean caterpillar prone to infection by a fungus that mummifies its body before it bursts out of its head and gets harvested by peasants. These peasants, with no other income source, have embarked on an unregulated all-or-nothing business venture and take great risk to scrounge these things and sell them to the Chinese, as a “tonic,” or a hallucinogen, or an aphrodisiac. So that could be, like, three Ridley Scott movies in a row right there, but actually it’s the basis for the documentary Himalayan Gold Rush, whose title rightly evokes the familiar history of rough-and-tumble 19th century Northern California. This is but one of 14 films being shown in the first Himalayan Film Festival, which runs for a few days this week at multiple venues in the East Bay and at San Francisco’s Variety Club Screening Room. Others playing here reveal even more angles on Nepal in chaotic transition. The sudsy, pluralistically inclined narrative film Highway, which Danny Glover helped produce, tracks a street-protest-impeded bus-ride to Kathmandu; Beneath Everest: Nepal Reborn is a four-year nonfiction chronicle of civil war. Although obviously unafraid of the very real tension between cultural cohesion and political entropy, these and the other films at the fest seem to advocate for an exotic new possibility of peace. All it requires is some strange transmutations, like a gutted caterpillar that becomes an erotic mushroom.
May 15-19, 2013

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