Women Won The Audience Award For The Most Popular Film Of The Festival

in 38th World Film Festival Montreal

by Kristína Kúdelová

“We will appreciate every review that film critics are going to write, we will be grateful for every mention published in different kinds of newspapers, but it is your thoughts, your opinions and observations that we are thrilled to discover now,” said Anna Soler-Pont when presenting the film Traces of Sandalwood (Rastres de Sándal) at the 38th edition of Festival des film du Monde in Montreal, Canada. As we would learn a few days later, this drama won the Audience Award for the most popular film of the Festival, and there are several reasons for that.

Anna Soler-Pont is the producer, screenwriter and co-author of the book the film is based on. She is a first time-filmmaker and her overwhelming enthusiasm and love for the piece of work she had just finalized and prepared for its world premiere in Montreal filled the air of the cinema complex in the city‘s Quartier Latin. She felt sorry for her colleagues that could not make it to Montreal and share the moment with her, so at least she asked the audience not to leave the cinema until the final credits had scrolled. “We were 324 of us making this film,” she said. “I know them all, I had to sign a contract and shake hands with every single one. They were real people, working hard for the sake of our film.”

Traces of Sandalwood is a story of two young women — who are also sisters, even though one of them is not aware of the fact. Mina is a successful Indian actress in Mumbai, obsessed with the idea of finding her little sister Sita, from whom she was separated at their mother’s death. Finally she finds her in Barcelona, but the young lady has no recollection of her Indian background and does not seem to be interested in this kind of (self) discovery.

Producer and screenwriter Soler-Pont underlined that this Indian-Spanish co-production is a rather special one. Women are not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. As she explained further, this is still quite unusual in the world of cinema. “Only 25 percent of films made every year are produced by women. Ten percent are written by women and only six percent are directed by women. As for the music composers, cinematographers, editors or masters of sound, the number sinks even lower down.

Traces of Sandalwood was intended to polish this statistic, so the credits go: Maria Ripoll, director; Nadita Das, casting; Francesca Prat, director’s assistant; Anna Soler-Pont, script; Anna Pujol Tauler; production designer. Raquel Fernández, cinematography; Esa Valino, sound; Irene Blecua, editor; Zeltia Montesm, music composer.

Sure, the success of this film is not due to either female or male presence on the set. The public must have appreciated its rare sensitivity and subtle work with numerous details. Here in Montreal, there were a number of films with interesting concepts, courageous ideas and elaborated narrative structure. But only few of them had real content, too. In other words, it felt like the directors were presenting interesting theses on their mind, but only few of them were able to make them appear on the screen in any real cohesive way.

Traces of Sandalwood might not to be an inventive, unique piece of filmmaking; in many ways it reminds of those happy endings made in Bollywood. But its authors succeeded to express many forms of emotions, even those very complicated, ambivalent and in many cases almost invisible. The film delivers an unexpected journey of young women, on the way to discovering and (not) accept her new identity. The Montreal audience could follow what is happening to a person who has just found out that her parents are not the ones she has considered to be so far, that she is not Spanish but actually Indian, that she has a sister she is supposed to love. The audience could witness her curiosity, her deep confusion, anger and revolt, too, which was quite a special experience.

According to Solar-Pont, the film should be released in Malaysia and South Africa in a few months, that is what is sure for now; the producer is still looking for other territories. But the name of the Montreal festival (Festival des Films du Monde) is not accidental; its audience represents a mirror of a cosmopolitan city. So the fact that the film won the prize of the audience right here might encourage distributors from other countries to bring it to viewers without worrying about box-office results.

Edited by Jake Howell