Thida Nathalie Sheldon is a die-hard nomadic self-taught filmmaker who is so infatuated with human stories that she has been consistently diving into them ever since teaching herself how to use a mirrorless DSLR camera and sound recorder back in 2015. Having ingratiated herself in more than twenty countries, she has developed a huge curiosity for the characters, places, norms and cultures that she has befriended along the way. A travelholic, fascinated with the weaving narratives of documentary-style filmmaking, she often subtly delves into metaphysical and spiritual subtexts via her human and cultural stories that stir the heart and intrigue the soul. Her ten completed documentaries all reflect this obsession, which was ignited by a dramatic spiritual event she experienced more than a decade ago.
“In mid-2012, I had my first out-of-body experience. My consciousness was flung out into the top right-hand corner of the room where I was working. As my fingers continued to type on the computer keyboard, I became aware that the body and consciousness are two entirely different things. I then heard muffled sounds, and it took some time before I could navigate back to hear those sounds become the legible voice of my father asking if I wanted some grilled fish!”
“During the following two years, my experiences increased, and my awareness expanded. I felt I had a clear path to manifest anything I desired, and I began travelling in vigour. A friend encouraged me to carry a little Panasonic Lumix camera and hit the record button wherever I went, as he thought that the places I was visiting looked intriguing. I also discovered I was attracting some of the most interesting, light, dark and other-worldly beings, and I wanted to tell their story.” This marked the start of Thida’s journey into the world of filmmaking.
In June 2015, Thida visited Ladakh, ‘The Land of High Passes’, in a last-minute spontaneous invitation by a fellow traveller to the ancient kingdom. The day she arrived she went to ‘Ladakh Cafe’, the closest cafe in the bazaar that had Wi-Fi (a temperamental technology in the 11,480 feet mountainous region of this seasonally busy Himalayan town.) Next door sat Mr Tashi, running his Tibetan prayer beads through his fingers, long hair tied back and a turquoise stone dangling off a piece of red, waxy cotton threaded through his earlobe. Entranced by his ‘Tibetan-ness’, a culture she was witnessing for the first time, Thida went to the market to get some lunch mantra-ing, ‘I’m going to make a film on that man, I’m going to make a film on that man’. True to her word, her first documentary Mr Tashi was completed that year.
“A vegan cafe, my first ever review in the Lonely Planet, a couple of avalanches and a hundred stories to tell the kids (if I ever have any) later, the first ever film that I could only dream about making is alive – just how I saw it the very day I laid eyes on Mr Tashi.”
Whilst couch surfing in New Mexico, a guy called ‘Jeff’ who lived on a farm in Taos stood out to Thida. Jeff’s miniature farm and positive reviews began ‘itching’ her intrigue, and suddenly she felt like making a film about it, although she had no idea why. An accepted CS request, a broken down Greyhound bus and a hitchhike up the Cerro del Oso mountains later, she found herself admiring the sunset from Talpa Gardens, where she met and filmed her second documentary with Jeff, the farmer, painter and car renovator, whose intelligence, light-heartedness and wisdom went hand-in-hand with his ability to manifest the lifestyle he desired – far from laissez faire, yet cleverly appearing to be just so.
“In life we tend to stumble upon just what we need when we need it. In un-mindfulness we brush it into the categories of ‘chance’ or ‘fate’ without realising how the Universe is in constant service towards our personal evolution. Meeting and listening to Jeff has been an incredible confirmation that our own self-empowerment really knows where to take us. His views of freedom, and what that means to him, his interpretation of the way the world works, his diligent practices towards a subtle and far greater goal that he innately and instinctively follows, are just some of the empowering insights Jeff offered me, both vocally and non-tangibly at times. During the interview, I also discovered that Jeff is an artist that has sold over one point three million dollars’ worth of paintings!” Her documentary became entitled The Man Who Paints Monkeys.
During a last-minute trip to Sardinia in 2017 someone on a Facebook forum suggested Luigi Muscas to become Thida’s local guide to explore the archaeological Nuraghe sites scattered across the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia. Luigi, then considered an ‘outcast’ or ‘madman’ by the village where he grew up, had made regular giant skeletal discoveries as a child, and he continued to receive visitors from around the world. Contrary to public belief, Luigi told a very different tale about an ancient civilisation of giants.
“If giant remains are truly being discovered around the world, what do these remains relate to and why are they here on Earth? If legends are true and ‘hybrid offspring’ are walking around the planet, where did they come from and more importantly, why did they intermingle with local Earth inhabitants when they came? Was it just our beautiful looks as legends say…or was there something more?” This became Thida’s third documentary Walking With Giants.
During the filming of Driving Miss Rebecca, Thida’s love for character driven travelogues only intensified, and in a period lasting over eight months from mid-2017 to early 2018 she found herself following in the footsteps of Dr Rebecca C Rivera as she took Thida on a journey of her life, beginning at her home in New Jersey, USA, and continuing on a spontaneous trip through France, Spain and Italy to finish in Luzon, Philippines. Thida’s narrative eye continued to wonder with her film ‘To Be’, which explored ‘The ‘Gallegos’, an autonomous community with a distinct cultural heritage, climate and geography, filmed in the summer of 2018 in Galicia.
That year also marked a return to her spiritual roots when Thida interviewed the artist and spiritual ‘grid-keeper’ Yunah Ray, prior to her death from cancer, in her documentary Petals of Steel.
“We open with a story linked to Yunah’s childhood memories whilst growing up, before moving into subjects surrounding her country of origin, current lifestyle, the meanings behind her artworks and her ongoing struggles. Yunah died a month after she gave this interview from her cancer. It was important for her to speak her truth in a variety of ways, and for me, the editor, to highlight her incredible strength and beauty. This film above all else, is a tribute.”
Thida’s relationship with India began when she embarked on a journey into one of the least accessible parts of Nagaland to make ‘Tribe’, a human story which focused on Penjun, one of the few remaining tribe members of the fiercest headhunters of Nagaland known as ‘The Konyak’. Encouraged to follow God in his latter years, with only an opium pipe and a few trigger-happy tourists to keep him busy, Penjun faithfully walks his grandchildren to school whilst reminiscing on the good old days. The film was requested to be screened at the grassroots community festival Ubuntu in London during March 2019, if not for Covid.
Thida’s regular visits to Myanmar for her first feature documentary panning a period of 5 years and still in assembly, birthed a new creative vision in her mind: a spiritual science fiction series she entitled The InfinEights. Whilst filming the documentary The Empire Of Good Deeds, she met a young boy of five, who proved to be a natural actor, and this inspired her write her first ever script, on the spot, in a place when censorship in is at an all-time high, and the act of simply carrying a camera is enough reason to get arrested.
Undeterred, she filmed the first InfinEights episode with ‘Kaung Myat Htun’ (gong mee-at tuun), who plays the role of a starseed/indigo child/superhero living in stealth. Appearing as a traditionally obedient Burmese boy coming from a family of tailors, he goes about his day, sharing the content of his electric mind and exploring ancient golden pagodas of which Myanmar is famous for, whilst gradually revealing that he is no ordinary human child. Entitled Bright like the Sun, Thida’s short film went on to win 15 international film festivals and been screened in France, USA, Brazil, Canada, and the UK thus far.
“The storytelling itself is magical. A kind of magic which is beyond trickery or deception. A magic that is alluring and fills one with a feeling of glee. The feeling is enchanting. We are hypnotically transferred to the world away from the cacophony of the one we inhabit…The director does an impeccable job of creating a world of stunning and captivating visuals. The entire story is told in an adroit fashion with so much left to be meditated upon and contemplate about life by the end of it….” – Beyond The Curve International Film.
“I would like each of the InfinEights films to give back to the local communities where they were filmed, through fundraising screenings and ticket donations. I feel that films often take more from their local environment than they put back. I have also scripted my films to provide acting showcase opportunities to those children who are on the spectrum or may have difficulty fitting in with the world around them.” It may come as no surprise that Thida also aims to support orphaned children in the undeveloped and complex country of Myanmar by donating a percentage of the film’s profits to a local children’s charity.
Thida’s second film in The InfinEights series is entitled Auria Rides Time, which she has now finished shooting in the UK and is currently crowdfunding for post-production. Thida also runs a successful filmmakers’ network called ‘Micro-Budget Filmmakers’ on meetup.com with more than 1,400 members and is about to embark on her toughest filming experience in the Himalayas yet, for another documentary short she has co-written: The Way.