Travelling talkies

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The makers of The Cinema Travellers at the SFF on what draws them to the world of movies

Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya were at the Sydney Film Festival recently to soak in a film-maker’s guilty pleasure of watching their own film while sitting amongst a new audience. The duo was here to present their visually enchanting documentary The Cinema Travellers. The film maps the journey of a showman, an exhibitor and a genius projector mechanic, working through rusty projectors and patchy reels while trying to keep the last travelling cinemas of the world up and running.

The Cinema Travellers.Indian Link

Excelling in the genre of documentaries, Shirley and Amit point out that “documentaries need not be hard work for the audience. It is after all a cinematic medium and must engage and strike a chord like all other films”.

It is perhaps because of this cinematic belief that The Cinema Travellers has such a strong visual appeal with almost lyrical frames full of human aspirations and rejections. The non-fiction narrative is delicately handled as the lives and the many truths of those affected unfold slowly, and at no point does it assume a tone that is preachy or patronising.

The Cinema Travellers.Indian Link

“Editing is the biggest manipulation,” says Amit, while admitting that it is the aspect he enjoys the most. For him, it is at this stage that the several truths and narratives begin to emerge, where he can sew the frames and tell a story, quite like the showmen in his film. However, the sharp editorial acumen of the film-makers is apparent as the frames delicately balance between the varying moods and musings of its characters.

The background score, composed by Laura Karpman and Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, thoroughly complements the intimate play of emotions between those in front of the camera and those behind it.

As kids, both Shirley and Amit were enchanted by charms of the cinema. For Shirley, it was a form of rebellion as she defied the Saturday night bed time restriction to watch the late-night film. “Cinema is my place of wonder. It allows me to inhabit so many different worlds,” muses Shirley.

The Cinema Travellers.Indian Link

For Amit as well, the process was organic and integral. His first memories of cinema are rooted deep in his grandmother’s mango orchard mixed with the musty smell of compost. He had sneaked out of his grandparents’ home one wintry night to attend a movie screening inside a white wedding tent with a huge screen lit with images. The next morning, his grandmother found him sleeping, wrapped in the loose flaps of the tent, and punished him for his lack of judgement by making him work on compost for mango saplings.

The Cinema Travellers.Indian Link

In The Cinema Travellers, the two team up to offer this unusual mix of sublime wonder and earthliness. However, it is not all magic and wonder; in the documentary arena, challenges are many and funding is scarce. But that does not deter them from doing what they are passionate about. During times of doubt, they find inspiration in the cinema of Werner Herzog and Pirjo Honkasalo, the editing skills of Walter Murch, and the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

While this duo continues on its quest to passionately document life and its many truths, colours, and narratives, somewhere under the tarpaulin tents in distant lands as the moon comes out, a projector whirrs and a world of new dreams and longings comes to life.