'The Mountains Are a Dream that Call to Me' Interview + Poster Debut
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2020
We are proud to premiere this beautiful official poster art for the film The Mountains Are a Dream that Call to Me, an indie feature screening in the NEXT section at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival this month. Set in Nepal, the lovely, poetic film is about two people who cross paths on the trekking routes in the Annapurna region. One is a young Nepali heading down from the mountains with plans to leave and move to Dubai. The other is an Australian woman escaping life and a recent loss to find relief in the grandeur and beauty of the Himalayas. The film is worthy of our attention and I want to support it as much as I can, not only because we don't often see films from Nepal, but also because it's just a beautiful film about mountains.
"In a time outside of time, the Himalayas are born. The section known as the Annapurnas have a dream." Tukten, a young Nepali man setting off for a new life as a laborer in Dubai, encounters an older Australian woman traveling in the Annapurnas who causes him to change course and discover his homeland in a new light. Starring Sanjay Lama Dong and Alice Cummins. The Mountains Are a Dream that Call to Me is directed by filmmaker Cedric Cheung-Lau, making his feature directorial debut. For the film's premiere at Sundance, I conducted a brief email interview with Cedric. We discuss the film's connection to his own experiences and the power that cinema has to heal. Hopefully it provides a better intro to this unique film.
Was this film inspired by your own experience?
Yes, I first started developing the film eight years ago when I first traveled to Nepal. I was struck with this incredible sense of being at home, even though I neither speak the language nor know anyone. In many ways, the film grew out of this sensation. In my subsequent trips, I became even more compelled by this land — the people, the mountains, the pace at which things move. It all added up to something greater for me, and by my second trip, I felt that I had to explore these feelings in a film.
The characters are also conglomerations of numerous people that I have met on this trail and others over the years. The film is also very much a document of the filmmaking experience on the film. When we're up against the elements in such a way, there's no choice but to rest at the whim of the space and react accordingly, so its not just my experience, but those of my actors on this particular trek.
It also seems as if the mountains wrote the script? How much did they guide the script and the film?
The first version of the script was actually just 43 images of the mountains that I had taken over the course of several trips, and even though I was eventually persuaded to write a more typical script, these images of the mountains remained the skeleton of the script and the heart of the film. These mountains have such an incredible voice and have witnessed so much, that much of my intent was to try and give them that voice.
As we began to edit, the voice and story of the mountains was at the forefront of our minds. In many ways it defined the structure of the edit as we had so much tremendous imagery that it was difficult to choose which shots to use and balance its voice with the story of our characters.
What does it mean to you to bring this film to and premiere it at Sundance?
Filmmaking, and the creation of any art for that matter, is an incredibly lonely process. We all have our supporters, but in the moment of creation, its incredibly difficult to convince ourselves that this is worth making. So to get through all that insecurity and find an institution with the history of Sundance accept you is really an exhilarating moment. In our case, it means even more to be able to share this film that is so much about the spirit of the mountains in the mountains.
Do you believe filmmaking can be powerful enough to heal people?
Absolutely. I'm not sure whether we're talking about the process of filmmaking or the aftermath with the finished film, but I think both have that power. And "heal" is obviously a very general term here, but personally, film has had such a profound effect on my life. I grew up in the 90s in a town called Ontario, where there was only the local multiplex. Films saved me. It gave me access to a world beyond my cul-de-sac, to different cultures, and perspectives— even in the blockbusters. As time has passed, and my tastes have evolved, more and more perspectives have revealed themselves, opening me up to a dialogue that I wasn't aware existed and closer to understanding the world we inhabit. With my film, I understand that its not for everybody, but I also don't think that its not not for everybody. It's a particular experience, but I think if you open yourself to it, theres a perspective in there that can be different. And even if you decide that you don't like that experience, that's fine, but for me, I've succeeded in sharing something about myself and hopefully reaches the audience.
As for the process of filmmaking, it also holds potent power. I've worked on a number of films as a gaffer over the last decade and nothing is greater than creating together. Its an aspect that is unique to filmmaking, which I think is also what makes it so special. In my case, I was lucky that all of my closest friends came to help me make this film. Even though we already all knew each other quite well, being in the mountains without any creature comforts, making this film opened us all up in ways we weren't expecting and connected us in a different way. As I said above, filmmaking is hard and difficult, but figuring it out with a group of people to create something that means something to all of us is healing.
What was the most memorable part of making this film?
I think I would have to ask what part of making this film wasn't memorable. Every moment of this process from conception to filming to editing to coloring and sound design has brought me into contact with wonderful people who have shared their stories and their skills and every step has been a true blessing.
On the trail, the moments that stood out the most were when I would see a crew member stop and just look and wonder at the place they were in, simply awestruck— schedule and work be damned. There was one moment near the end of filming however, that really sticks out. We had been in it for a couple weeks at this point, walking and working and falling asleep in the cold, but some of us were sitting outside admiring the night sky and spotting shooting stars. Eventually, mostly due to the excited yells of our DP Jake, everybody came out and we were all truly freezing, but the magic and wonder of being in this place took over.
Thank you to Cedric for taking the time to answer the questions. Here is the festival poster:
You can also watch a short Sundance Film Festival video interview below with director Cedric Cheung-Lau, discussing his inspiration for the film and what he is hoping to convey with this stunning mountain footage.
Cedric Cheung-Lau's The Mountains Are a Dream that Call to Me (with a run-time of 94 minutes) is world premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Next category for unique, experimental, innovative work. It's both written and directed by cinematographer / filmmaker Cedric Cheung-Lau, making his feature directorial debut after one other short film previously and work as a gaffer for years before. Produced by Madeleine Askwith and Alexandra Byer. Featuring cinematography by Jake Magee. The film is still seeking international distribution - stay tuned for more updates and additional details on when it will be available to watch. Visit Sundance.org for more info on the film and screening times at the fest. Keep an eye on this one.