2008-12-18 / Schools
Westlake graduate wins award for film about Nepali children
Sarah Miller, 18, created the film "Namaste," which compares her life with those of her peers in Nepal, emphasizing the differences in their conceptions of necessity, wealth and happiness.
"The film compared Westlake Village to Nepal," Miller said. "I really compared and contrasted the happiness quotient, the need for material objects. . . . It was definitely a lifechanging experience."
Miller took the trip as a production assistant for a media team that was documenting human rights issues and the recent historic elections in Nepal. Her film included some of the footage she shot for the team, including an interview with the rebel leader at the time, Prachanda, who has since become Nepal's prime minister.
"They live in all these tightly knit communities," Miller said of the people she filmed in Nepal. "They definitely have a lot of horrible things going on—human trafficking, human rights violations. In Westlake Village, there is such a quick pace of life. We don't spend as much time with our families as they do in these little villages."
"Life goes by a lot slower," she said. "I was kind of jealous of them. That's weird because they are so poor. But they definitely have a lot I don't have in my life.
"I'd seen pictures of poverty and everything, but I'd never seen it up close. I never realized there's this happiness and good hope, because they are so poor. They want to work for peace. In America, we kind of accept the world as it is."
The Goldman Sachs Foundation and Asia Society awarded Miller the Youth Prize for Excellence in International Education, which is awarded to U.S. high school students who demonstrate an indepth understanding of key issues in international affairs.
Miller was one of five students honored with a $10,000 scholarship.
Miller traveled to Nepal for three weeks in April with Regenerate, a nonprofit film group founded five years ago by her father and brother in Thousand Oaks.
"I'd never been to a Third World country before," said Miller, who noted that the people of Nepal had recently abolished their monarchy. "Seeing people voting for the first time was pretty amazing. At first I felt afraid. It was so different. Soon I was totally comfortable being there, with the people, the customs . . . and when I returned, I had a whole new appreciation for my country."
Miller said filmmaking has always been a part of her life.
"As long as I can remember, we've been filmmakers," Miller said of her family. "My brother was always making skate films. I edited a video together of my life when I was 9. I've been a part of anything Regenerate has worked on. Now we'd like to do more films around the world."
Miller lives with her mother and father in Westlake Village, but in January she'll move to France. She wants to become fluent in the language and learn about the culture. She's now taking a French class once a week at Santa Barbara City College and is trying to teach herself Hebrew.
"I'm hopefully going to use my knowledge of language and films to do something to help," Miller said. "I'd like to do work that can help people around the world, including in the U.S."
Miller said the trip to Nepal changed her outlook on the future.
"It made me realize how important it is to make pertinent films, films with a message that can help people," Miller said. "There are people who don't have their voices heard. You can help them."
Miller's video can be seen at www.askasia.org/students.