Private Project

Catherine's Kindergarten

Catherine’s Kindergarten is the story of a mother’s emotional journey to confront her grief after the death of her only child, juxtaposed with her physical journey to a Nepalese mountain village to open a school in memory of her daughter.
I am that mother.
My grief journey began twenty years ago when I left my home in Australia for the anonymity of San Francisco. I remember lying awake in my attic apartment, in a gracious Victorian overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, hearing the moaning of foghorns guiding ships home. I felt adrift, with no safe harbour, and my gut whirled with guilt and shame: I’d failed as a mother to protect my child.
In San Francisco, I met Prakash, a young Nepalese student. Born in Lalu, a remote village nestled in the shadow of the snow-capped Himalayans, he had suffered great losses too. When he shared his vision of building ten schools in the district surrounding his village, I was inspired and wrote a children’s picture book to fund a kindergarten in memory of my daughter. 
Once the school was completed, I flew to Kathmandu. From there, I boarded a tiny plane to Western Nepal, then hired a car to drive into the mountains, and the following morning, hiked tirelessly to reach Lalu. I had invited an American friend to accompany me and film the journey. James turned out to be the perfect companion —good-humoured, resourceful and unbeknownst to me, a talented cinematographer.
By the time we arrived in the village, I was exhausted and feeling vulnerable. Stripped of all familiar supports including friends, yoga classes and a meditation community— even basic needs like running water, electricity and Western bathrooms. Alone in my mountain hut, I had a meltdown thirty minutes before the start of the official ceremony to open Catherine’s Kindergarten and the adjoining hostel for orphans. “It’s a good thing I’ve done,” I sobbed, “but it won’t bring my daughter back.”

  • Kaye Cleave
  • James Daggett
  • Kaye Cleave
  • Kaye Cleave
  • Kaye Cleave
    Key Cast
  • Catherine Cleave
    Key Cast
  • Prakash Bista
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    grief, mother/daughter, teenagers/ drugs, depression, gayparenting
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 10 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    July 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    150,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Australia, Nepal, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Global Taj International Film Festival
    November 7, 2020
    official Selection
  • Silver State Film Festival
    Las Vegas
    United States
    December 11, 2020
    Official Selection
  • Five Continents International Film Festival
    Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
    December 3, 2020
    Official Selection
  • WRPN Women's Film Festival
    United States
    December 8, 2020
  • LGBT Unbordered International Film Festival
    Nassau, DE
    United States
    December 13, 2020
  • Docs Without Borders Film Festival
    Nassau, DE
    United States
    March 2, 2021
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Kaye Cleave, James Daggett

Kaye has a fierce belief in the power of stories to connect people, change attitudes, and break down barriers. She has written a number of books including a memoir and a children’s picture book but her true love is film. Her first two films explore grief and loss and she is currently working on a short documentary, Somebody’s Child about the opioid epidemic and the urgency to provide safe injection sites in every city. Catherine's Kindergarten is her first feature-length film.

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Director Statement

James and I never set out to make a documentary. On our return from Nepal, we viewed the footage and realised we had an important story to tell. The climate crisis movement was gaining momentum and a global pandemic would soon rage out of control. Many of us were feeling anxious and traumatised, grieving the loss of our safety and normalcy.
I know what it’s like to have my world upended; I know intimately how it feels to have my perception of certainty shaken to the core. My lived experience makes me an ideal messenger. Yes, we will have heart-breaking losses; yes we will fume against the unfairness of life and be tempted to give up. And yet? By cultivating emotional resilience, we can be happy and stay present to the wonder of life.
Stories about grief and loss generally follow one of two narratives. The victim of tragedy—it’s every parent’s nightmare, you never get over the death of a child—or the inspiration of tragedy—you’re so brave, I wouldn’t survive if one of my kids died. I wanted to probe the spaces in-between, exploring the complexities and messiness of grief.
Why tell this story? I grew up working class and inherited my father’s sense of justice. Now as a writer and film maker, I feel a responsibility to share stories that inform without preaching; heal without patronising; connect across all divides. I hope this film will generate conversations about what it means to be human, not shying away from difficult questions like how does one develop the capacity to tolerate grief and trauma?