Nilima Abrams on location in India.

Triumphs and Challenges­­—Stories from Three Countries

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Thursday February 25, 2016

South Burlington filmmaker Nilima Abrams will be screening two short documentaries Thursday, March 3, in Burlington. The films The Tent Village and Kimmy’s Schedule are about youth in India and the United States. In addition to the screenings, Peter Keny, a former “Lost boy of Sudan” and member of the Sudan Development Foundation, a Vermont run nonprofit organization that provides medical care in South Sudan, will speak about his youth in war-torn Sudan. According to Abrams, although the stories told in the films and by Keny tell of difficult times, they all share the power of resiliency and compassion.

Abrams, who grew up in South Burlington, began her work at the University of Vermont where she integrated documentary filmmaking with her international courses. While at UVM, she made a student film about a child-labor prevention program in India and met a couple who had taken in 35 street children and were raising them in their home. Abrams left a camera with them with the goal to return and make a full documentary. She then completed an MFA in film at Stanford where Kimmy’s Schedule was her thesis project. The film is a 20-minute in-depth look into three turbulent months in the life of a girl in U.S. foster care.

Returning to India to film pre-production footage, Abrams also taught filmmaking to students there. She eventually received a Fulbright fellowship to spend a year filming for a feature documentary and to continue teaching the students. Between Abrams’ trips to India, the students, on their own initiative, continued to film their relatives. Abrams then worked with them to turn their raw footage into a story that became The Tent Village, a 25-minute collaborative documentary filmed by Indian teenagers about their relatives who live in roadside tent villages, collecting recyclables and human hair to sell.

“They sort of accept that they’re untouchable or low caste,” Aliveli explains in The Tent Village, referring to her relatives on screen. She is sitting in front of an iMac, reviewing her footage, “They’ve been treated like that [poorly] since they were kids . . . and they forget who they truly are.” The young women filmmakers speak to the inherent worth of everyone, as well as complicated social ills, such as alcoholism and domestic abuse, which perpetuate internal problems.

“Medication cannot fix a broken family,” explains Anthony Pico in Kimmy’s Schedule, which is an intimate portrait of a girl in foster care who hopes to get adopted. The film follows her adventures including her growth at a loving special needs school and her struggles in an emotionally vacant group home. Pico, a former foster youth and nationally renowned expert whose story was featured on the public radio show This American Life, provides context and perspective.

Abrams says of the documentary screening, “At first I was just planning to only screen The Tent Village . . . local people have supported it and had asked to see it; but I think many of the underlying themes, about innate human potential, for example, and material vs. emotional poverties, are applicable across circumstances and I wanted to round out the event.”

The Tent Village, Kimmy’s Schedule, and a talk by Peter Keny, Thursday, March 3, 7:30 p.m. Maglianero Gallery, 47 Maple Street. Q&A to follow. Free, optional donations accepted. For more information, visit