Magazine article Screen International

'The Cinema Travellers': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Cinema Travellers': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

Dirs: Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya. India. 2016. 96 mins

Whatever masterpieces, if any, bow at this year's Cannes Film Festival, it is likely none will communicate the excitement engendered by movies more headily than The Cinema Travellers. This fast-moving, lyrical documentary tells of the waning days of the tent cinemas that tour around remote villages of western India's Maharashtra region. It is also an elegiac paean to the showmen who tote their rusted equipment to fairgrounds following the harvest season, and also to the twinkly-eyed septuagenarian projector technician-inventor Prakash, and to the rapt faces of spectators.

This evocative first feature collaboration of documentarian Shirley Abraham and photography artist Amit Madheshiya, who are both Indian, is destined to accrue attention on the festival circuit. Though The Cinema Travellers is much more rigorous, aesthetically and intellectually, than the majority of well-heeled exotic travelogues, commercial success may be limited by its slightly buried narrative.

Bowing as an official selection in the Cannes Classics section, this evocative first feature collaboration of documentarian Shirley Abraham and photography artist Amit Madheshiya, who are both Indian, is destined to accrue attention the festival circuit. Though The Cinema Travellers is much more rigorous, aesthetically and intellectually, than the majority of well-heeled exotic travelogues, commercial success may be limited by its slightly buried narrative.

The film was inspired by Madheshiya's award-winning 2010 photo show that grew from his and Abraham's academic research into alternative Indian film exhibition. Significantly, they haven't given themselves writers' credits, suggesting the movie was discovered in production more than written or blueprinted over the course of its five-year gestation.

More through montages than linear storytelling, however, an ominous story does emerge from the unending crises brought on Sumedh Touring Pictures and Akshay Touring Pictures by late-arriving film reels, bad weather, defective equipment, decaying nitrate film, rivalry, a burning tent in one case, and inroads into attendances made by increasingly-available cable and digital television and bootlegged discs.

The two outfits are radically different. One is run by a tough, business-minded former snack-seller who propels his sizeable crew from one post-harvest jatra (or religious fair) to another in a dodgy open-topped truck - chickens skitter out of its way - and who frets about declining ticket sales. …

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