Worthy stories

• Utsav Thapaliya makes documentaries about people living with disabilities like 33-year-old Sam Ren (above) who has cerebral palsy and is a keen painter and YouTuber.

A NEPALESE immigrant living in Leeming is shining a light on people with disabilities by making documentaries about their lives.

Utsav Thapaliya has made three compelling docos so far – highlighting the hidden talents and determination of those on-screen – with one competing at the upcoming Sydney Film Festival. 

Thapaliya arrived in Perth in 2020 as an international student, studying International Relations and Political Science at Murdoch University.

While working part-time as a community engagement assistant for one of the state’s largest disability service providers, he befriended people living with disabilities and got a first-hand insight into their struggles, passions and hobbies.

“The impetus for starting this initiative came in my mind when one of the participants living at the disability centre at the age of 20 who has autism could paint without the assistance of others,” Thapaliya says.

“Looking at this scene, the question was posed to me, ‘What can I do to share his creativity with others?’

“Then I thought of using my filmmaking skills from back home.”

Thapaliya’s docos are released as part of his Stories Project, a not-for-profit that helps people with disabilities, refugees and the culturally and linguistically diverse tell their stories on digital platforms, as well as campaigning for their rights and advocating for them: “We put on art exhibitions for people with disabilities who wish to show off their art creations,” Thapaliya says.

“We planned a mini exhibition for Hilton resident Kate Thomson at Fremantle DADAA in the middle of 2021 and it was successful. 

“As I am involved with the political wing of WA Labor, we have started a Special Politics programme in which people with disabilities can participate in community policy making, meeting local MPs, providing opportunities and leadership trainings.

“Through this initiative, we’ve also launched a campaign called Sex, Sexuality, and the NDIS that puts pressure on the government and NDIS to approve the disability funds for the intimacy that disabled people require. We have also registered many cases in court on behalf of disabled people.

“We will publish a book titled 40untold stories in January 2023, in which we highlight 40 disabled individuals.”

Thapaliya also helps people with disabilities make their own documentaries, training them in videography and photography.

Last year, for all his volunteering efforts, he was nominated for the WA Government Multicultural Award and the 7news Young Achiever Award. Since graduating from Murdoch Uni in November 2021, Thapaliya has become a busy man: on top of his volunteering commitments he has three day jobs including working as a communications officer for a local government organisation and a private consulting group.

But he’s hoping to do a tie-in with local governments and businesses to get more funding for The Stories Project, so he can do it full-time soon.

“If any people living with disability want to be featured in the silver screen, let us know; we have more volunteers now so that we can prepare two documentaries per year and if anyone is interested in podcast we can arrange that too,” he says.

Find out more about The Stories Project at http://www.facebook.com/Thestoriesprojectt where you can message Thapaliya.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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