Kirtana Banskota creates South Asian representation through bridging Nepali and American filmmaking at home in Austin.
By Tess Harmon
Kirtana Banskota’s proudest accomplishments include starting the first-ever South Asian House at South by Southwest and climbing to Everest Base Camp. A first-generation Nepali-American filmmaker, Banskota overcomes challenges with her commitment to opening up spaces for greater representation in film in Austin, the United States and Nepal.
Most recently, this commitment culminated in South by Southwest’s first South Asian House, which Banskota helped create. The South Asian House drew filmmakers, producers and industry leaders together for events, panels and discussions on fundraising and investing in media, Asian representation and the future of filmmaking. Between March 11 and 12, over 6,000 people attended the South Asian House for live music, happy hours, a comedy show, a Desi drag brunch, a Bollywood flash mob and an Oscars watch party. In planning, Banskota saw a need to create a space for uplifting the voices of South Asian filmmakers.
“The lack of representation in 36 years at South by Southwest was gobsmacking because they’re looking at the biggest industry in the world. Yet there’s not a faithful representation,” Banskota says. “We created this platform where we could collaborate with South Asian organizations across the globe and bring in representation and really talk about issues that are not only about representation, but also talk about the next step. I’m looking forward to doing more, because it’s not just a one-time thing. We’re definitely coming back next year.”
Banskota has strong ties to Austin and SXSW, as she decided to move to Texas in 2011 after visiting Austin for the festival. Before Austin, Banskota spent her formative years in Nepal and India, later coming to the U.S. for university. Banskota was shy as a child. But she flourished in theater programs, leading her to pursue careers in acting and eventually production.
Now, Banskota is a triple threat: producer, director and actor. She owns her own award-winning production company, Banskota Productions, which began in 2016 as a sole proprietorship. Operating in-house, Banskota seeks to tell global stories and create space for greater representation of Nepali women filmmakers in the United States.
In her work as a filmmaker, she focuses on telling underrepresented stories. Currently, Banskota has multiple projects in the works. Premonition, a psychic thriller she co-directed, releases this summer. With her production company, she has been working on Where the Stars Are. The film is an Austin-based AAPI romantic comedy that she hopes to launch in Austin later this year. She is also writing, directing and producing her first animation, Maya From the Himalaya. It’s a story influenced by Banskota’s own trek to Everest Base Camp.
“I’m very conscious about what stories we’re looking at and what stories we can focus on,” she says. “To me, if it doesn’t have a social impact on a story, I don’t want it to be an in-house production. Having had that upbringing and passion for philanthropy, making sure you’re an echo chamber for voices that are unheard has always been instilled in me growing up. My family’s all about that too. I think it just carries on in my work as well.”
For Banskota, this work continues in her participation with her community. She serves as the community and partnerships chair on the board of directors for the Austin chapter of Women in Film and Television, working to create access, opportunity and mentorship programs for local women in film. In addition, she is on the board of the Asian Family Support System of Austin, a nonprofit which offers support for Asian families experiencing abuse. To create spaces for Nepali filmmakers in the U.S., Banskota co-founded the Nepal America Film Society and Nepal America International Film Festival in Maryland, which work to create a bridge between Nepali and American filmmaking.
“One of my goals right now, while I am collaborating with other Nepali filmmakers in the U.S. as well as in Nepal, is we want to make Nepal a destination for filming,” Banskota says. “It’s not what people think. Not just the mountains, and it’s not just everyone climbing the mountains. It’s also about the people and their stories. Bringing that diversity and educating people has been remarkable.”