Movie of the Week: “Fairytale of Kathmandu” (Ireland, 2007)

When I am in Malawi, I am well conscious of the incredible baggage associated with being a citizen of European descent in an impoverished country. People will single you out on the street and smile widely, you will be asked to attend numerous important events despite little connections to anyone such as weddings, funerals and baptism ceremonies. Certain people will happily take you out in public, hoping to be seen and thereby associated with everything white people are thought to be. Worse yet, are the constant appeals for money from the desperate and the often heartbreaking stories that go along with them.

To me, as a person raised on the lower end of the social ladder, it is a confusing mix of not knowing how to react, sympathy for the disadvantaged and worse yet, resentment towards economic dependence. Now, being wiser, I pick and choose who I wish to speak with, and work to maintain a level of mutual respect, just as I would with people in countries of economic advantage. I find that, a little respect can go a long way in just about any corner of the globe.

It is easy to become drunk on the power associated with having a few dollars in a country where most people have none. In areas where people live on less than a dollar a day, people happily will do just about anything you ask for even the most paltry of sums.

This explains much of the missionary phenomena that occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unable to convert the masses in the United States, representatives of even the most insignificant of religious denominations will find that they have incredible power over the impoverished. It is not surprising that everywhere you go in Africa, you run into some of the creepiest representatives of Christianity that you will ever meet.

Some intend to help, but the potential for abuse is incredible as is exemplified in “Fairytale of Kathmandu.” Director Neasa Ní Chianáin set out to make a documentary on the life of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, an openly gay, Irish language poet who travels frequently to Nepal. For years, he has supported the life and education of scores of young men in Nepal, even informally adopting one man and sponsoring his family.

Neasa Ní Chianáin weaves her documentary is such a fashion as to suggest that something is amiss in Ó Searcaigh’s relationship with Nepal, though it is initially unclear as to whether this relationship is one of charity or self interest. Over the course of the documentary, we gradually begin to see that Ó Searcaigh’s intentions are not selfless, but rather coated with a frightening dynamic of western wealth, and abusive sexual exploitation of scores of Nepalese boys.

Ó Searcaigh appears in denial that his conduct, which includes giving money and gifts to Nepalese boys from the countryside and having them sleep in his room, could be in any way unethical. Really, he exemplifies the worst of sexual predation, a man drunk on new found power, but unable to see how his actions could in any way cause permanent harm to those without the power to choose otherwise. Most importantly, he represents the worst of the wealthy western tourist, taking what he wishes from an impoverished country, and leaving a few pennies in return.

It is clear throughout the film that Ó Searcaigh powerfully attempts to manipulate all aspects of Ní Chianáin’s documentary, just as he likely manipulates those around him to ignore his crimes, even while waving them plainly for all to see. To me, it was frightening to see this man. He is much like my late step-father; he masterfully twists the perceptions of everyone around his to prevent them from speaking out against that which they can plainly see.

A telling point of the film, is when Ní Chianáin admits that she was “no longer under his spell” and takes the initiative to expose Ó Searcaigh for what he is. She confronts him in his home, interestingly incensing Ó Searcaigh so much, that he breaks out of Irish and defends himself angrily in English, as if the beauty of his native Irish language were just another tool with which to hide his sinister intentions.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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