Saturday, May 14, 2011

The last screening

Last night, I watched films made by the students of the Dept. of Film & Media Studies here. The theatre was packed; there was a programme sheet - quite a long one, including excerpts from radio dramas and documentaries. After announcements, the films began.

I was struck by how apolitical the films were. It's so rare to see documentaries in India that are about not very much - just pleasantly made meanderings - that it made me restless to sit through many of the films. Not even a docu about the space left by a demolished building in Glasgow that is now a community garden for organically grown vegetables did more than state the fact of its being there.

Some of the dramas were not bad - Male Seeks Female was sweetly funny, well-acted, but just so....pheeka. And so white. Strikingly so. As if this corner of the world had magic powers to eclipse the rest of the world. At the same time, one radio docu gave a glimpse of Scottish nationalism via linguistic pride by talking about centuries of oppression.

Formally, I noticed a tendency to use the quick dissolve instead of the cut; depend on music more than necessary; pay little attention to framing or lighting. The exception was the film Chapters, which in which the framing and lighting - though derivative of the Ivory-Merchant kind of filmmaking - was genuinely beautiful and thoughtful. The film took its time to allow the character/s to emerge and was confident in its pacing.

The outstanding film in the selection was A Bunch of Gentlemen - the only drawback in the film being the title (which is a quote from one of the character that should not have ben used). We're introduced to a few old men who say their pieces to camera, about how they came to playing golf. We see them as they make their shots, walk across the greens. They're witty, sweet old men, and as their anecdotes move one into the other, we gradually realise that each one of them is talking about when their eyesight began to fail them. The Oldest Member (of course there is one; this is a golf story!) says how he realised he couldn't see very well when he was about 58, but he still continued to drive until ten years later; how, one day when he was driving he couldn't see a damned thing, which is when he pulled over to the kerb and hasn't driven since that day.

This is when you realise that all these men, whose eyes look where they're supposed to when they're talking to camera, whose faces register expressions that could be reactions to what the interviewer was saying, are all blind. And they play golf.

It's a amazingly controlled, gradual revelation, done with no ta-da!s or flourishes. Someone could theorise surprise versus shock all over again using this film as study material.

There are some lovely little shots that prefigure the blindness that the film later reveals. It's a perfectly shot, genuinely funny and memorable film. It is also the kind of film that makes one ask, if these guys can make this kind of a film, what were all the others doing?


The post-script to this is that - per announcements made at the beginning - this was the very last screening to student films by the Dept. of Film & Media Studies at Stirling. 'Restructuring' means many departments have now become schools of this or that subject (School of English Studies, for instance) under the Dept. of Humanities. While no one knows exactly what this means, it seems safe to say it definitely means no more large scale screenings of student films. What happens to the films and radio dramas themselves it not yet  clear.

So regardless of everything else, I'm glad I got to see what this year's students had to show.


km said...

It's so rare to see documentaries in India that are about not very much - just pleasantly made meanderings

Funny you should say that. Satyajit Ray, in his book about the making of the Apu trilogy, comments on the "meandering nature" of life in an Indian village and how his screenplay intended to capture that feeling.

ammani said...

Will you be coming down to London some time? It would be very nice to say hello, if you have a spare evening.

Space Bar said...

km: Yes, but documentary? I can't remember a recent Indian docu I've seen that was bland. Annoying, yes, diagreeable certainly, but not pointless.

ammani: you're still around! yes certainly we should meet. mail me?