By Nolan Cleary
A Purchase student from India recently screened his first feature film about his experience returning home to the country.
"This is the Closest to How Home Felt Like" is a semi-documentary film from Kunga Choephel, a junior film student at Purchase College. The film documents his return to India after nearly a decade, reuniting his family and relatives, and returning to a once familiar land that now feels foreign to him. Choephel described the film as "understanding who these people are who I love."
Filmmaking is a life dream for Choephel. As someone who came from a low income film, he turned to filmmaking as a way of translating his experiences to the screen.
"Film had taken up that role for me where I had directly and indirectly spoke to my experiences, and understood my experiences more and more,” Choephel said.
When returning, things were much different for Choephel since the last time he had been to India.
"When I first came back to my hometown, I almost felt this visceral hatred towards it because it had changed," Choephel said.
Choephel’s ability to overcome, to let go and accept change is what inspired the themes of the film. “I think holding on to the past, where it gets to the point where it’s disrupting my feature just isn’t productive for anyone." Choephel said.
When filming, not everything went as planned. Two months before arriving in India, Choephel's cousin ran away from home. The confusion and betrayal Choephel felt by this, would go on to guide the focus of his movie.
"There were feelings of betrayal, but also understanding, because both of our parents are divorced." Choephel said.
For Choephel, the film is a passion project two years in the making. Multiple parts of the film had to be dropped, edited or changed. Getting the film right, and striking the right chord wasn’t just about filming the right footage, but about crafting the right narrative as well.
Choephel said, "The editor who was with me felt we were so insulated in our footage, in a way that we weren't thinking of it in the grander scheme of things."
According to Choephel, some scenes were harder to cut than others. Originally, he wanted his dog, Yankee, to be in the movie. Yankee, his childhood dog, initially didn't recognize Choephel when reuniting with him, but later became more comfortable around him.
Choephel felt the film's narrative needed to be streamlined. "It just was translating properly," he said. Other footage, including Choephel's ill family, was also left on the cutting room floor.
Alex Long, a film student who has worked on multiple projects with Choephel, advised him on what footage to keep, and which to remove. Choephel said that filming his family helped him to understand the people he loves better.
"My first reaction was ‘the cinematography is gorgeous, but so much of it isn’t serving the story,'" Long said. Long felt that aspects like Choephel's cousins running away should be more focused on, and was the emotional core of the story.
"This is the Closest to How Home Felt Like" recently screened on campus. Choephel's next feature, currently under the working title "Time Tied" is a fictional sci fi drama currently shooting on Purchase College's campus.
Choephel said filming "This is the Closest to How Home Felt Like" allowed him to understand more about his family. “For them, to see them this vulnerable, was a surprise," Choephel said.