It's clear why "Highway to Dhampus" earned a slot at this year's Heartland Film Festival.

The story of three very different souls who meet in Nepal falls back on old-school storytelling with a 21st century veneer. It’s about characters connecting, sometimes in ways we can’t predict, to help us consider what we might sacrifice for others.

It’s also perfectly acceptable for all ages, avoiding tawdry material en route to its heart-tugging finale.

 

A Paris Hilton type flies to Nepal to do some damage control on her brand. Elizabeth James (Rachel Hurd-Wood) will try anything to distract the tabloids from some inappropriate pictures leaked to the press. So she visits an orphanage where she’ll pass out free backpacks to poor school children. Meanwhile, her personal photographer (Gunner Wright) is capturing it all on camera and sending the snaps back home.

The plan is perfect, but she isn’t fooling those closest to her. The photographer is fed up with Elizabeth’s diva routine, and the man assigned as their translator and guide (Raj Ballav Koirala) sees right through her charitable pose.

Only the children, who flock to her side like groupies, are won over by her efforts.

Audiences may think they know what happens next, but part of “Highway’s” allure is in embracing the unknown.

Hurd-Wood brings depth to what could have been a satirical portrait. The film never goes out of its way to insult her motives. Her actions say more than enough. Suesha Rana, cast as a local who catches the translator’s eye, suggests far more than the small town girl dazzled by worldly strangers.

The film’s first half moves at an elegant pace, so much so that one wishes for more emotional fireworks – or at least a sparkler’s worth of discomfort. The story soon offers that and more, setting the stage for some complicated, but emotionally rich, reunions. That mid-story twist feels like a thunderbolt, but writer/director Rick McFarland eventually justifies the narrative choices in the film’s waning moments.

“Highway to Dhampus” makes its U.S. premiere at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 18 at Castleton 11 at the Heartland Film Festival. The film also will be screened at 2:45 p.m. Oct. 21 at Traders Point 10, 12:15 p.m. at Castleton 11 on Oct. 23 and at 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at Castleton 11. Visit the Heartland Film Festival site for ticket information.