Travelling Identities By Hubert Niogret

in 9th International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films

by Hubert Niogret

India emerged as the dominant country of the last edition of the Biennale of Mumbai with directors, in documentaries mainly, coming from mainland India or from the Indian diaspora, who were born in India or who left India early to live in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Germany, Canada.

These documentaries come in all lengths and deal with cultural identities (The Ascetic Eye, Praveen Kumar, India), the return to homeland (I For India, Sandhya Duri, UK), immigration policy (Continous Journey, Ali Kazmi, Canada), relations between India and Pakistan (My Brother, My Enemy, Masood Khan & Kamalje et Negi, India; and in one of the few good short films: Little Terrorist, Ashvin Kumar, India) and, last but not least, with political freedom and national identity in the recipient of the FIPRESCI-Award, the outstanding AFSP, 1958, by Haobam Pabam Kumar (India).

In two of the best documentaries, these themes are interweaved: in I For India, by Sandhya Duri, on the relationship between a father and his daughter and how they cope differently with being an immigrant, and in Zero Degrees of Separation, where Canadian Elie Flanders uses footage shot by his father in Israel after World War II. The latter is not as good as Sandhya Duri when it comes to inter-cutting different materials and adding in-depth thoughts.

Many documentaries used a variety of materials, ranging from the super 8mm I For India by Sandhya Duri to maintain a dialogue between London and Mumbai, or Zero Degrees of Separation, by Elie Flaunders to record his father’s travels but also in Continuous Journey, Operation Babylift (Dai Le, Australia) and in Television and I (Andres di Tella, Argentina) to archival newsreels and wartime footage in Vietnam Symphony (Tom Zubrycki, Australia), and lastly to home movies in The Idealist-James Beveridge Films Guru (Nina Beveridge, Canada).

Some of the documentaries feature the director as a baby or as a kid, except when he was not born at the time of the action in the documentary. At first Television and I seems to focus on the director’s discovery of television but then turns to the relationship between the director’s generation and his father and grandfather’s generation of industrial moguls and how he deals with the heritage of “Peronism”.

Having found the films shot on the Conservatory when they were moved from Hanoi to an unknown village, the director of Vietnam Symphony has managed to cut images of US bombs, the battlefield and life in the village, on the one hand, with contemporary interviews of the musicians and very moving scenes of the return of the ex-pupils, who are now teachers, and a new generation of musicians, on the other hand. But the combination of Western and Vietnamese music contributes largely to make the puzzle coherent and convey emotions.

Without any outside documents, some of the documentaries screened at the Mumbai Film Festival were the result of deep elaboration (The Four Seasons Mosaic, Ann Shin, Canada, an attempt to unify music of all cultures) or long investigations (Holy Men and Fools, Michael Yorke, UK, about spiritual minds in India; Trafficked, Luigi Acquisto, Australia, on prostitution between Thailand and Australia; The Next War, Dan Setton, Israel, on right-wing terrorist groups in Israel; Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow, Nadja Drost, Canada, on the devastating effects of Canadian oil companies’ action in Ecuador).

Few of the documentaries were as efficient as The Black Road-On the Front of Banda-Aceh by William Nessen (Australia, on the people’s fight for the independence of Aceh from Indonesia), twice-awarded at the Festival, or as AFSPA, 1958. Indeed the main winning film mixed rough-cut footage and elaborate texts while spanning complex topics like rebellion fights, protest movements, relations between central power and regions and the quest for recognition. In brief, it was all about identity, which could have been the main theme of this festival.