Created by local nonprofit Tsering’s Fund, feature-length film is making global waves
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
After taking first place at the London Mountain Film Festival in March 2023, “Helambu” returns home to Big Sky on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Now a global phenomenon showing at film festivals from Banff and Vancouver to New Zealand and Spain, the 46-minute film was produced by Big Sky’s longtime dentist Peter Schmieding. The film will return for a free screening at The Waypoint on Aug. 8., one year after its global premiere in Big Sky. Attendees can meet and greet with Schmieding and his adopted daughter Maya Hyolmo, who stars in the film. The movie highlights hope and heritage as Western medicine and education—primarily education of young women—reach the Helambu Valley, high in the mountains outside Kathmandu, Nepal.
Schmieding spoke with EBS, thrilled about the film’s return and hopeful that the Big Sky community will come and support the film’s second showing in Big Sky—the first since it gained global acclaim.
“Helambu” was created by Tsering’s Fund, a local nonprofit founded in 2007 by Peter and his wife Karen Fellerhoff Schmieding. Tsering’s Fund helps create access to English education for Nepali children, especially young girls who have historically been excluded from higher levels of schooling in remote regions like the Helambu Valley.
According to the nonprofit’s website, “The chronic underdevelopment of Nepal will not be resolved until girls in Nepal have the same opportunities as boys to pursue a quality education.”
On Aug. 8, viewers will have a chance to ask questions and learn firsthand about the wonders and challenges of living in Helambu, while the event raises money for Tsering’s Fund. Schmieding said the majority of donors and sponsors who funded the film—and Tsering Fund’s educational efforts—are from Big Sky.
“A lot of these girls have a chance due to the generosity of people in the Big Sky area,” he said.
He said there’s hardly been a dry eye when the film shows at festivals, and he expects the same when the flick returns to Big Sky. The film was inspired when Maya once told him that she was the only girl left among her peers with who hadn’t been married off or sent away to work.
As executive producer, Schmieding decided he didn’t want to overwhelm the audience with the “gut punching” details. But he often speaks to the audience before the film is shown, which helps him set the stage.
“When you put Maya’s life in context before you watch it, and then you see what she experienced during the film… It’s a lot,” he said.
Purna Gautam, principal and founder of Melamchi Ghyang secondary school, is another main character in the film. Tsering’s Fund has helped support that school’s growth, which now educates more girls than boys, as stated in the film.
He added that “Helambu” is a breakthrough for Wes Overvold, a filmmaker based in Bozeman and Big Sky since 2014.
“Wes’s style is really powerful. He’s a really talented young man, and I’m really glad this film is taking off,” Schmieding said.
Erika Share, another Bozeman-based filmmaker, contributed to the film as well. She specialized in artistic close-ups and managed the soundtrack.
Schmieding said Overvold and Share’s process was fascinating, as they organized more than 60 hours of footage—shot almost entirely in foreign Yolmo dialect.
“We would [film] these incredible scenes when we knew something dramatic was happening, but nobody knew what they were saying until later,” Schmieding remembered.
A grand arrival
Maya Hyolmo has never been to the U.S. In fact, she’s never flown on an airplane, Schmieding said.
That changes on July 30, when Schmieding flies into Bozeman, bringing Maya. He expects an emotional reception at the Bozeman airport. Maya’s biological brother Karsang Hyolmo, a junior at Montana State University, will be on hand to greet her. Schmieding also expects a moderate crowd of Tsering’s Fund supporters to celebrate their arrival around 3 p.m.
“It’s amazing what Maya has been through, her perseverance as a child—God has chosen her,” Schmieding said. “She’s going to do more to change that region, other than [educator] Purna Gautam, than anyone in history.”