Cannes podcast: 'The Cinema Travelers' explores wonder of India's itinerant movie houses
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya direct visually stunning tribute to the power of film
Update: The Cinema Travelers wins special award from L'Oeil d'or jury
Filmmakers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya capture in The Cinema Travelers what could be the last throes of a poetic cinematic tradition -- traveling movie houses that for decades have brought film screenings to remote villages across India.
Entrepreneurs in rattletrap vehicles clatter into towns with their aging equipment -- projectors and film reels in constant danger of disintegrating. But when the tents go up and the lights go down, it's magical to see the emotional impact of the moviegoing experience. In a sense The Cinema Travelers is like a documentary companion to Cinema Paradiso.
Digital technology has put the future of the traveling cinemas in doubt, or at the very least rendered projection on film obsolete. That reality hangs over the documentary, which premiered in the "Cannes Classics" section [a segment of the festival that suggests old or restored titles, but is home mostly to new films]. The Cinema Travelers is in competition for L'Oeil d'or ["Golden Eye"], the top prize for documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nonfictionfilm.com spoke with Abraham and Madheshiya along the Croisette in Cannes on the day of their premiere. The podcast is below [my apologies for incorrectly referring to Shirley as Sarah]:
Update from Cannes: Abraham and Madheshiya were honored at the festival with a special award from the documentary jury.
In announcing the award, jury president Gianfranco Rosi said, "The Cinema Travelers [follows] the trajectory of three protagonists, archetypal protagonists, in India today to tell the story of the end of an era in cinema. Without ever wearing sentimentality the filmmakers focus their... tender and incisive lens in the shifting reality of our contemporary world. Thank you for giving a universal sense of what cinema is."
Rosi expanded on his enthusiasm for The Cinema Travelers in a conversation with Nonfictionfilm.com, acknowledging the jury's difficult decision in choosing which film to honor with L'Oeil d'or, Cinema Novo or The Cinema Travelers.
"I think our choices we made still it’s underlining a certain type of documentary which defines cinema, cinema -- the subject is cinema no matter what," Rosi told NFF. "And the challenge of documentaries [is] to find new narrative -- that is the duty of documentary."
Abraham and Madheshiya expressed delight at the special honor for their documentary.
"Just to premiere the film in Cannes was a huge honor and to win an award here it means a lot and it's really going to help us in the longevity of the film and it will reach more and more people because you have this badge of honor from [the] Cannes Film Festival," Madheshiya told NFF. "It's a huge honor and it means a lot to us."
Abraham said she was gratified the jury noted her film does not take a sappy approach to its subject -- the waning of a longstanding cinematic tradition in India.
"I like that people are talking about the film not being sentimental. It was one of our aims to not consign it this bin of nostalgia," she told NFF. "We would hope and we would want the traveling cinemas to continue to live and breathe -- they're just shedding a skin. They're just changing form."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.