The Cinema Travellers


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Cinema Travellers
"Though it focuses on one company, this film encapsulates a struggle faced by travelling cinemas across India and in other parts of the world."

There are parts of the world where life has barely changed in a thousand years. You wake up with the dawn, you work, darkness falls, you have a little time to spend with family or other people from your village, then you sleep. Sometimes there are religious ceremonies, weddings or parties, but for the most part, life just goes on the same way. Then one day a truck come to town, a tent is set up, and inside it, magic takes place. You see new worlds unfold before your eyes.

Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya's documentary opens with still shots of ageing faces enchanted by the wonders on the screen, men no less awestruck now that they were as children. This is the power of cinema. For 70 years, the same small troupes have been touring remote Indian villages to bring the magic to life. Now, however, its frequently patched equipment is starting to show signs of terminal failure. Going digital is an option, but a very expensive one. Can it be done? Can this cinema survive?

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Though it focuses on one small group of people, this film encapsulates a struggle faced by travelling cinemas across India and in other parts of the world. Demand remains there but rural people remain poor and costs are going up; new skills are also needed. To put it in context, we take a trip to ancient caves whose interiors are fantastically carved. "This must be a hundred years old!" gasps one man, and is suitably stunned when his companion explains it's at least 20 times that. Cinema is a very young phenomenon, the other man notes, yet some viewers will be reminded of Cave Of Forgotten Dreams and Werner Herzog's contention that such images, brought to life by firelight, were in fact the earliest form of cinema.

Looking in detail at each aspect of the business, the film is particularly intriguing when it introduces us to the projection equipment, reinvented over time until it became something unique. What might a man with the ability to do this have achieved given a good education and real resources? The projectionist is justifiably proud of his achievements, but it is his reflection on childhood and how, when other kids were thrilled by images they saw on the screen, he wanted to know how it all worked, that bears testament to the medium's real power.

Will the cinema survive? The men are sanguine about their prospects, yet they find inspiration in a new generation of enthusiasts. We close with more still images: young faces now, lit up in delight. There's a lot of information in this film but its magic lies in what it offers to the eyes.

The Cinema Travellers opens at Bertha DocHouse at Curzon Bloomsbury in London on Friday January 26th. It will also screen in Liverpool at Big Adventure Cinema for one show only on Friday January 26th.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2018
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A documentary about travelling cinemas in India.
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Director: Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya

Year: 2016

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: India


New York 2016
CFF 2017

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