Friday, January 31, 2014

Gripping and Meaningful

A recent short film festival, organised by film club, Shamiana, had the audience clamouring for more 

A scene from the film, 'The Kinematograph'

By Shevlin Sebastian

The animated film, 'The Kinematograph', begins with the camera panning down from the clouds all the way to the streets of a 19th century village, with large houses on either side, with cobbled streets, and people running about. It then focuses on a particular bungalow. The viewer then gets a glimpse of the attic, on the top floor, where a man is sitting on a chair and looking at an image of a woman on a screen. This is the inventor Thomas, who switches off the machine and has a despondent look on his face.

Meanwhile, down below in the kitchen a woman, wearing a white apron, is cleaning a plate carefully. The man comes in, sits on a stool, and lights a pipe. Then he says, “I am running dry. I simply cannot figure it out.” His wife says, “You will. If not today, tomorrow. I know it.” Thomas says, with a touch of irritation, “You and your sweet optimism.”

The back story: Thomas is trying to invent a film camera, which nobody has done before. But he is frustrated. Thomas wants to add colour to the image on the screen, but does not know how.

Meanwhile, his wife urges him to patent the invention by saying, “Why not take my advice? You can always add colour later on.”

Finally Thomas agrees. Meanwhile, over lunch, his wife suggests an inventive way of solving the impasse. An excited Thomas stops having his soup, and dashes off to his laboratory. And it is the right suggestion. Thomas is able to add colour to the image.

However, despite this cheery news, an oblivious Thomas does not realise that his wife is gravely ill. There is a scene in the bathroom where she is having a coughing fit and suddenly she spits blood on a handkerchief. Later, Thomas stands outside and asks how long she will take. “Five minutes,” says the wife. But sometime later, he sees her lying unconscious on the floor, the white handkerchief with several splotches of blood, lying next to her body. Very quickly, she dies of tuberculosis. And Thomas is stunned.

It is a moving film and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Directed by Tomasz Baginski, the film shows the dangers of obsession and how a man is unaware that his wife is dying, because he concentrates solely on his work. In the end, Thomas is left feeling guilty, sad and alone.

'The Kinematograph', was shown as part of a short-film festival conducted by the Shamiana film club, at the JT Pac, Kochi, on Sunday. The other films which were screened included 'Curfew', 'Time Freak' and 'Henry'. All of these films were nominated for the Oscars, but it was 'Curfew' which won in 2013.

'Curfew', by director Shawn Christensen, begins with a New Yorker, Richie, who is lying in a bath tub, and has slit his wrist. The water is slowly becoming red, when he receives a call. It is from his estranged sister, Maggie, asking him to look after his nine-year-old niece, Sophia, for the night. Richie decides to abandon the suicide attempt by bandaging his wrist. He then heads out to meet Sophia. And, thereafter, the film focuses on them spending time in different places of New York. Slowly, they develop a warmth and get to know each other.

Thanks to his interaction with Sophia, played with aplomb by Fatima Ptacek, Richie is able to get over the deep depression he is in. Incidentally, ‘Curfew’ has won 47 awards at international festivals all over the world.

Both 'Curfew' and 'Henry' by Yan England focuses on the bleakness of life. In 'Henry', an old pianist loses his memory and does not realise that the woman who befriends him at the nursing home is his own daughter, Nathalie. As for 'Time Freak' by Andrew Bowler, it is about a man who travels to the past on a time machine.

But perhaps the surprise package was the 19 minute Malayalam film, For Hire, made by young director Vishnu Raghav, about a woman (Kavitha Nair) who stands seductively at a bus stop, at Thiruvananthapuram, late at night. She persuades a man, also waiting beside her, to share an autorickshaw, whose driver is known to her.

Halfway into the journey, she pretends to fall ill, steps out of the vehicle, the man follows her, and the auto speeds away with the luggage. Later, the driver admits that the woman and he split the money from the sale of the luggage. A few men are tricked in this way.

Says Kavita, a well-known TV anchor: “One day, four youngsters were sitting around and throwing out ideas. It was how this film, which is based on a true story, was born. These young people did not have the finance and some of us put up the money to make this film. It has been put up on You Tube and we have been getting a lot of appreciation. We have also taken part in festivals.”

At the Festellen Short film fest held at Bangalore, where more than 60 short films from all over India were screened, Kavitha received the Best Actress Award.

In fact, all the films, shown by the Shamiana club, were gripping and worthy of appreciation. And the festival was a success, judging from the audience reaction. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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