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Even When I Fall: ex-circus slaves on a tightrope to recovery

Review: This story of Nepalese girls sold into slavery in a circus is unexpectedly feelgood

Shot over six years, Kate McLarnon and Sky Neal’s unexpectedly feelgood film opens with a child’s first impressions of the circus: sparkly clothes, skills that make the performers seem more like dolls than humans, and no way out. “My father said I could come home if I didn’t like it. But the people there wouldn’t take me home.”

Human trafficking is a fast-growing industry in South Asia. Some 10,000 women and children are trafficked from Nepal to India ever year. Some of them, including Saraswoti, end up in the circus.

She was eight years old when she was taken from her rural Nepalese home, aged 14, and married off to the son of the circus owner. By 17, she was the mother of three sons. Her family have never given up on finding her.


Early in Even When I Fall, operatives from a local agency stage a daring rescue. An official tells off the circus owner for employing small children. “Their fathers handed them over,” he protests.

Affecting

No film will break your heart and then raise your spirits quite like this affecting depiction of exploitation. Some of the survivors have lost years: one is uncertain of her age and original caste. But this is not a documentary about slavery. It’s an uplifting tale of recovery, resilience and reintegration.

By the time they are rescued, Saraswoti and Sheetal, two women who were sold to the circus as children, are incredibly skilful performers. As young adults, now returned to Nepal, they are members of Circus Kathmandu, an advocacy group made up of men, women and children who have been similarly rescued from circus servitude in India. As a collective, they perform and educate others and themselves with workshopped drama, storytelling and acrobatics. Circus has seldom seemed so magical on screen.

Complexities

Performances that depend on the skills inherited from their captors is but one of the film’s complexities. Families who sent their children away must deal with the guilt. The survivors must face prejudices and assumptions – many simply presume that they must be prostitutes.

Beautifully shot and edited, Even When I Fall continually defies its humble Kickstarter origins. Profits from this film are being given to Circus Kathmandu to support its ongoing work in raising awareness.