For her final academic project, Erin Galey is taking a field trip.
The film student will be among the first class to graduate from the Singapore campus of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. She is now at work on her thesis -- a short, "Brave Girl," that she will film in Nepal.
"What I love about Nepal is that there is this really mystical beauty to the place," said Ms. Galey, 31, of Fox Chapel. "It's like 'Lord of the Rings' on steroids." She has visited the country four times to audition actors and scout locations and plans to shoot there for three weeks this September.
The beautiful landscape is a backdrop to darker events in "Brave Girl," which tracks the fictional journey of a 13-year-old girl, Bumika, who is kidnapped and trafficked from her Himalayan village to a brothel in Mumbai.
Ms. Galey became interested in investigating the sex industry in India and gender roles in Nepal after speaking with a Nepali woman who was teaching girls to kayak.
"I asked, 'What are you trying to help [save] these girls from? What's the problem here?' " she recalled. "And trafficking was one of the things that came up."
She met a Nepali producer, Binod Adhikari, and said to him: "I could really use a hand. I don't speak Nepali, and I need someone to help me figure out, how does a girl get from a mountain village to a brothel in India?" Ms. Galey and Mr. Adhikari retraced such a path from Mr. Adhikari's home village near Kathmandu to India, taking photographs and scouting locations.
Her subject might lend itself well to a documentary, but Ms. Galey has something else in mind for "Brave Girl." She hopes the fiction film will help Nepali girls avoid being tricked by con artists as her character Bumika is.
"The big X factor in this problem of trafficking is that these young girls in the mountains who are potential victims don't understand how that happens," Ms. Galey said. "Nepali women are very trusting.
"I thought a fictional film about trust ... could be very useful to potential victims, because it's going to show them how it happens instead of talking about it. This is what the border looks like, this is what a con looks like, this is what a guy lying to you looks like. These are the factors that lead to you ending up in a brothel in Mumbai."
It's a lofty communication goal for a filmmaker who speaks no Nepali.
"It's been so challenging!" Ms. Galey said. "We have an acting coach out there who's helping me communicate with the actors." The dialogue of the film is Nepali, and Ms. Galey also has a local production designer and costume designer.
She has set aside three weeks, more than would be necessary normally to shoot an 18- to 22-minute film, because she anticipates delays associated with filming in Nepal.
"We're in a foreign location, we're shooting in another language," she said. "The electricity is going out all the time ... There are strikes. Things tend to move a little slower."
Ms. Galey also wants to take her time. "It's a story that deserves to be told in the best way possible," she said.
She has garnered attention through a website and Facebook page and conducted a fundraising campaign online to raise $31,239 for the filming.
"Film really lends itself to all people," Ms. Galey said. "I can watch a foreign film and not know what they're saying, and still understand what's going on."
After graduating next year, Ms. Galey plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She ultimately hopes to take advantage of the burgeoning film industry in Pittsburgh to move her work here -- in her hometown, she sees another inspiring landscape to capture on film.
"I love the landscape of Pittsburgh," she said. "I love the culture, and I think there are a lot of interesting stories to be told here."
Jacqueline Feldman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1964.