The Cinema Travellers
Director: Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya
documentary | Section: India Gold
Country: India | Year: 2016
Language/s: Hindi, Marathi | Time: 96 mins
Cannes prize-winning The Cinema Travellers is a journey with the traveling cinemas of India, which bring the wonder of the movies to faraway villages annually. Seven decades on, as their lorries and cinema projectors crumble and film reels become scarce, their audiences are lured by slick digital technology. Filmed over five years, The Cinema Travellers accompanies a shrewd exhibitor, a benevolent showman and a maverick projector mechanic who bear a beautiful burden - to keep the last traveling cinemas of the world running.
The only Indian feature film in the Official Selection at Cannes 2016, The Cinema Travellers garnered wide critical acclaim after its world premiere. Huffington Post celebrated it as “a masterpiece”, while Screen Daily declared, “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.”
I came to love the movies because I was prohibited to watch them. There used to be a movie on television on Saturday night but the children were bundled into bed for the Sunday
church service. I was scared to be on the wrong side of the angels when they separated the wicked from the just on Judgement Day. The first film I saw happened to be ‘The Angel’. I was watchful, covering the television screen with a dark cloth and peeping in, so the escaping light wouldn’t betray me. The film showed me the benign side of the angles that the Bible had warned me against. And it planted in me, a deep curiosity about how cinema can give form to the human imagination. I witnessed a most profound and beauteous form of it decades later, as I wound my way into the travelling cinemas.
One winter night, I sneaked out of my grandparent’s home in the village. They were screening a movie in the school’s courtyard to celebrate a wedding. I crawled inside the white wedding tent to find my friends, plumes of smoke, and a huge screen lit with images. In the morning, my grandmother found me sleeping, wrapped in the lose flaps of the tent. She pulled me out of the swathes of canvas and touched my forehead for signs of fever. I was fine and was punished for my indiscretion. All afternoon, I worked on compost being prepared to plant mango saplings. Since then, I have found the musty smell of the compost indelibly intertwined with my first memories of cinema, rooted deep in my grandmother’s mango orchard.
Decades later, sitting in a field, crouching by the beam of a cinema projector, I knew I was home.
The Cinema Travellers is the debut feature film of Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya. The film premiered as Official Selection at Cannes Film Festival 2016 and won the Special Jury Prize- L’Oeil d’or: Le Prix du documentaire.
Cannes prize-winning Shirley Abraham is a documentary film maker. Her work is supported by the Sundance Institute, Bertha Foundation, Filmmaker Fund, PMA WorldView, and Asian Network of Documentary. She has previously directed documentaries for the Guardian and Al Jazeera English. She has been a fellow of Sundance Labs, Cluster of Excellence “Asia Europe in a Global Context”, TasveerGhar, India Foundation for the Arts and Goethe-Institut.
Amit Madheshiya is a photographer and Cannes prize-winning filmmaker. His photographs have won awards from World Press Photo (2011) and World Photography Awards (2011 and 2009). His work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions worldwide. He is a fellow of Sundance Institute, Goethe-Institut, India Foundation for the Arts, National Foundation of India, Arts Council of England and the University of Heidelberg.