Film southasia

"Festival of southasian documentries"

Hall 1, Day 3

Day 3 of FSA ’13, on a rainy Kathmandu Saturday ideal for curling up with a movie, presented more superb documentary amid the buzz surrounding No Fire Zone, a powerful documentary on the atrocities committed against non-combatants in the final days of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers that has been banned along with two other Sri Lankan selections from the festival by the Nepali government on a request from the Sri Lankan government. FSA is glad to report that such censorship has only succeeded in the film receiving a great deal of attention from the local media, and that we’ve been getting questions and calls all day. The films will remain in competition and will be screened in open protest at a non-commercial venue, Yalamaya Kendra at Patan Dhoka, at 6.30pm this evening, where we expect a full house.

In Hall 1, the day began with Hombre Maquina (Machine Man), a bold short film from Bangladesh that celebrates the incredible efforts of manual labourers in Bangladesh, using beautiful composition, closeups and repetition to show men and women who work like machines to do work that, in many cases, could not be done through automation. This includes brickmakers moulding 18,000 bricks a day in their team of 4, and shipbreakers pulling collosal vessels to shore. This was followed by another short film, The Old Photographer, one of several short submissions from the Yangon Film School, a heartening sign that Burma’s democratic opening will allow others in our region to begin understanding a society so long cut off from its neighbours. Director Thet Oo Maung took questions after the screening, and described the slow but encouraging gains made recently by Burmese filmmakers. His film focuses on an old Indian photographer in Yangon who has lived through much of the turbulent history of Burma’s Indians and is a legend among Burmese photographers. Thet Oo Maung presents a touching portrait of his subject, capturing his memories just weeks before they were lost to amnesia following a stroke.

Two of the day’s films looked at migration, a vital concern for all Southasian societies today. Playing with Naan follows a Nepali migrant working as cook in a restaurant in Japan, and takes a holistic view of his life by showing us his story alongside those of his family struggling as farmers in his native village and his young wife and child in Kathmandu. It exposes many of the problems that those leaving Nepal to look for better futures are confronted with – lack of education and jobs at home, exploitation by recruiters and employers in foreign lands, exorbitant interest paid to loan sharks, the consequences for families missing fathers and sons, and how governments have done little to help those going abroad and protect them from exploitation. It’s all very relevant now as the plight of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar makes international headlines.

Expecting, which follows an undocumented Afghan immigrant in the Netherlands and his pregnant Kosovar refugee wife as they try to survive while navigating a convoluted asylum system that has them trapped, unable to return home to their own torn societies but unable to work or access basic services in their new home as they wait for necessary documents that never comes. In a powerful half-hour, the film exposes a system that is clearly not responding to the needs of refugees. Here again, given the recent tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa that claimed the lives of almost 200 African migrants desperate to get to Europe, the issue of migration and our global responsibility to deal with it is especially relevant.

In place of the banned No Fire Zone, FSA organised a panel to discuss media censorship across the region. Kunda Dixit (editor of the Nepali Times), Narayan Wagle (noted Nepali journalist, novelist and editor), Shahidul Alam (Bangladeshi photographer, activist and FSA ’13 jury member) and Thet Oo Maung (director of The Old Photographer) spoke of government restrictions and self-censorship in their respective countries, and also provided heartening examples of how brave journalists and activists have used creativity to defy their governments.

The last film of the day in Hall 1 was Celluloid Man, an epic tribute to P K Nair, the Indian archivist who has almost singlehandedly created the National Film Archive that chronicles the history of Bollywwod, especially in its earliest days. With stunning archival footage and revealing interviews with prominent Indian film personalities, the film reminds us how cinema has changed lives and minds in our region, and also given us a precious addition to our regional culture. More than anything else, the film is a reminder of how terribly we neglect the preservation of our own history (the vast majority of early Hollywood films have been lost forever), and how we must make a greater effort to save important material since “without an archive, there can be no history”. A sobering lesson, since even as we celebrate the centenary of Southasian cinema we are realising that we have already lost vast chunks of that legacy.

On that note, we head off to Yalamaya Kendra to screen our Sri Lankan films. At least at FSA, history will not be silenced.

Blog by Roman Gautam

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