Mountainfilm 2024 Review: A Philanthropist’s Aspirations for the World and Herself Collide in “Between the Mountain and the Sky”

“When I thought back to my childhood, all of the joy and memories made me who I was,” Maggie Doyne can be heard saying in “Between the Mountain and the Sky” of why she stayed behind during her gap year on what was supposed to be a months-long excursion to Nepal with friends from high school that ended up stretching out over a decade. Only 18 at the time, she would grow alongside Kopila Valley, a project she launched upon seeing all the refugees and children orphaned in the region by civil war that grew from a school to include a full-time orphanage and women’s center, perhaps unfamiliar with the culture being from New Jersey, but connecting on a more fundamental level when recalling how her parents raised her without much wealth, adding “What they didn’t have in money, they made up for with a sense of togetherness and play, so the only thing I knew to do was to recreate some of those common threads from the childhood I was given.”

There’s no doubt that Kopila Valley is a major accomplishment, with a campus with plenty of children running around and accepting those who have recently arrived, creating its own community. But what comes after is where things get interesting in this film adaptation of Doyne’s memoir of the same name as the philanthropist watches contemporaries get married and have children of their own in their late twenties and early thirties. While she tends to around 50 kids in Nepal with the help of six other caregivers, she has to wonder about starting her own family and perhaps it’s a mild spoiler to acknowledge the film’s director Jeremy Power Regimbal is also her husband, not introduced as such when he starts appearing midway through as a potential partner for Doyne, but clearly that relationship is responsible for the intimate access and copious amount of footage he collects over the years as Doyne has to emotionally and geographically maneuver between disparate lives in Nepal and the U.S. that she tries to reconcile as one when it isn’t only carving out some time for herself that is surely needed, but the nonprofit depends upon her being a public figure to fundraise globally in order to survive.

“Between the Mountain and the Sky” is unusually refreshing when it doesn’t linger on the selfless work that Doyne has done, but provocatively asks at what point she needs to protect herself from giving too much to be useful, pivoting around the tragic death of a newborn who barely survived a bout of malnutrition, only to succumb to a horrific accident after being nursed back to health. The demands of her work, both emotional and practical, are an undertaking that no one could be prepared for and with Doyne committing herself so early in life to this particular calling, Regimbal ends up capturing a delayed adolescence when typically more pressing personal needs have been put off in the service of making an immediate impact on a larger scale.

Having Doyne, particularly as a white Westerner, as a central focus could be seen as mildly problematic when the Nepal operation is mostly touched on in broad strokes, with her partner Tope, an orphan who seeks to give others the home he never had, and two of her earliest adoptees Nisha and Krishna given only enough screen time to see how Kopila Valley works overall. However, as generous as Doyne has been in opening up a safe space, she is in opening up her life, making one appreciate how hard this work really is, not only in what it takes to build something for the greater good, but what it can take away individually and when the latter story is rarely told, it isn’t just the children that are getting a complete experience during their time at Kopila Valley in “Between the Mountains and the Sky,” but everyone else.

“Between the Mountain and the Sky” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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