A film by Claude von Roesgen

 

 

 

 

 

 

58 minutes, Not Yet Rated

USA, 2004

English & Nepali with English subtitles

DVD/Color

UPC Code 883629002811

www.jimisir.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contacts:

 

Claude von Roesgen

Email: claude@jimisir.com

Phone: (978) 405-2524

Ellen Gitelman

American Graphiti

Email: elleng@americangraphiti.com

Phone: 617-426-6668

 

Production Notes

Jimi Sir: An American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crew List

 

Produced, directed & written by

Claude von Roesgen

Edited by

Claude von Roesgen

Narration by

Don Westcott

 

 

 

 

 

Film Synopsis

“A powerful film about a humble undertaking, I find myself still thinking about it days after seeing it," said one viewer of Claude von Roesgen’s documentary film, Jimi Sir: An American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal.

 

In 1984, von Roesgen traveled to the tiny hill town of Melung, Nepal to document his best friend James Parks, the “Jimi Sir” of the movie’s title, during the final months of his Peace Corps service as a high school math, science and English teacher. The viewer gets to know the welcoming and upbeat “Jimi” in an intimate way, allowing us to experience the common themes of almost all human interactions around the world.

 

By the time von Roesgen arrived in Melung, Jimi had well-established relationships with the village people. Through Jimi’s eyes we experience the village’s culture, including the farming life (everyone has an acre of land to farm rice and a few vegetables), the caste system (the town is comprised of a spectrum of classes ranging from high priests to what’s considered lowly carpenters and tailors), and festivals and customs, such as the Hindu festival of Tihaar, a tribute to the animals.

 

An original and fascinating portrayal of a Westerner’s experience engaging people in a vastly different culture, the film also underscores the challenges facing Nepal as its citizens struggle with overpopulation, deforestation, and drinking water quality. Whether you’ve been to Nepal as a tourist or as a Peace Corps volunteer, or you’re just interested in either experience, the film transports you to an enchanting land that time has nearly forgotten.

 


Jimi Sir: An American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal—page 3

 

 

 

 

The making of “Jimi Sir”

On an appointed day in September 1984, filmmaker Claude von Roesgen met up in Katmandu, Nepal with his friend “Jimi”, a Peace Corps volunteer in the tiny hill town of Melung, not a small miracle in a land where landslides can leave people stranded for days. Equipped with 100 VHS-C videocassettes, 30 hours of non-rechargeable lithium battery power, and the most portable consumer video equipment available at that time, von Roesgen set out on an adventure that had been almost two years in the making.

 

Melung is located in the rugged terrain between the barren Tibetan plateau and the plains of India, only a day’s walk south of the trail from Katmandu to the Mount Everest base camp. It is only 25 miles as the crow flies from Katmandu, yet it took two full days for the two to get thereone day on a bus and another walking through the foothills of the Himalayas.

 

Although shot 20 years ago, today Melung is pretty much the same as it was in the Middle Ages: a town without roads, vehicles, electricity, plumbing, telephone or radio. Side by side, the majority Hindus and a small group of Buddhists continue to farm rice and a few staple fruits and vegetables, as well as practice their respective ancient rituals. Because it is not on one of the regular trekking trails, today Melung lacks the usual Internet cafes teeming with Americans that have taken over Nepal.

 

For ten weeks, von Roesgen filmed Jimi’s daily life there as a high school math, science, and English teacher living in a primitively furnished room that is part of Melung's health clinic. He also documented Jimi as he strived to complete the construction of a science lab and a latrine before his two years of service as a volunteer ended.

 

After filming the emotional farewell party, in which Jimi’s face and hair are dabbed with bright red pigment, von Roesgen abruptly turns the scene to an icy day in Boston as Jimi reflects upon his experience.

 

Given the constraints—no electricity, plumbing or roads—von Roesgen had to be very resourceful not only as a visitor, but also as a filmmaker, doing such things as fixing a short in his Walkman Pro audio recorder with a makeshift soldering iron cobbled together with a wire sharpened on a stone and heated up by a kerosene cooking stone. Since he had only brought 30 hours worth of batteries that he couldn’t recharge or replace, he also had to schedule his filming very carefully.

 

Von Roesgen edited down the lion’s share of the 30 hours of video in the first six months after his return from Nepal, until his finances ran out. He didn’t pick up work again on the film for 18 years in 2002. By then, video technology had advanced so much that he had to modify his decades old equipment in order to convert it to high quality video that was compatible with today's digital technology.

 

His friend Jimi has changed, too. He is now a lead economist at the World Bank and completely gray, but the story of Jimi’s experience in the Peace Corps in Nepal remains timeless and universally appealing.

 

 

 

 

Jimi Sir: An American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal—page 3

 

 

 

 

About Claude von Roesgen

Claude’s career in filmmaking is not unlike a journey through the Himalayas of Nepal—long and twisty with some breathtaking peaks and a number of sidetracks. Jimi Sir: An American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal represents his first feature length documentary.

 

While an engineering student at MIT, Claude studied with the legendary filmmaker Richard Leacock, one of the pioneers of the cinema verité style of documentaries. After graduation, his first foray into the field was as a soundman for the PBS documentary "The Information Society". He simultaneously worked as a solar design consultant.

 

His first summer after graduation, he and his best friend from college, the film’s titular Jimi (James Parks), quit their jobs and embarked upon their first of many adventures together: walking the Appalachian Trail from Boston to Waynesboro, Virginia in 80 days. The following summer they quit their jobs again and bicycled from Boston to San Francisco.

 

After yet another turn at a conventional job, this time as a technical journalist, Claude returned to film and video. Before embarking on his biggest adventure yet with his friend James—making a film about James’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal—he shot and edited a short film about the intercultural experiences of two Boy Scout Troops, one from the U.S. and one from Spain, who together participated in Pamplona's annual running of the bulls and a climb up Mount Perdido in the Spanish Pyrenées.

 

When he returned to Boston from Nepal at the end of 1984, Claude focused on editing the 30 hours of footage down to a one-hour program. At the end of six months he had learned how to edit, but he was also broke. He was forced to stop work on the film and began writing scripts for industrial videos to earn money. Soon he and a college roommate started a video production company called Visual Thinking, but he eventually closed the company to become head of the video production department at a Fortune 500 company.

 

In 1993, Claude became fascinated by what was then a relatively new phenomenon—the Internet. Again, he switched courses to became one of the Internet’s first Web Masters, abandoning video production altogether.

 

In 2002, while working as a software engineer in the Boston area, he renewed his interest in film yet again, picking up where he left off on his documentary about his friend James. Video formatting had changed so much since 1985 that he had to laboriously transfer the 30 hours of footage to another medium. After nearly two years, he finally finished the film he had always dreamed of making and is looking forward to making his next one.