THIS SHAKING KEEPS ME STEADY (Dir. Shehrezad Maher, 2018, Pakistan / U.S.)

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In a measured yet painterly wide shot towards the end of what is a hybridised work Maher trains her erudite eye under a bridge, a sort of non-space with a phantasmal ambiance. The familiar concrete structure of the bridge and the calm waters of the river act as a visual memory to a story narrated to us by an ambulance driver. The story is about a woman who tried to commit suicide jumping from a bridge. It is a traumatic memory that forms a composite of recollections by ambulance drivers that are juxtaposed to fictional reconstructions of real life tragedies for television. Closer to an atmospheric and experimental video essay than a documentary, Maher’s choice to fragment recollections into a non-linear narration lets us hear the neglected voices of Karachi as distinctly porous. Re-enactments staged for news media and TV dramas point to the artifice of performativity but this betrayal of reality is seemingly challenged by the ways in which memory also distorts history. But it is the stories narrated by the ambulance drivers that resonate with you long after the film has ended, a reminder of the ways in which an impoverished underclass props up a society with unsung acts of altruism.

You can find out more about Shehrezad Maher’s work here: http://www.shehrezadmaher.com/

 

VIDEO ESSAY: THE POETICS OF ARAVINDAN

A Video Essay in 3 Chapters on Govindan Aravindan’s 1979 film Kumatty (The Bogeyman, India)  – Nature | Topography | Magic

This new video essay looks at a few of the aesthetic and thematic ideas in the work of Aravindan’s Kumatty (1979). There seems to be a lot of Indian films which are being restored, occasionally playing at film festivals or selected film events. Yet there still seems to be no viable means of distributing marginal, alternative or forgotten Indian films whereby a wider audience can get access to them. I’ve been quite surprised by Netflix, which has a healthy list of contemporary Indian titles from the independent scene, a welcoming shift in terms of making streaming more accessible for new and alternate Indian cinema. What we really could do with now is some kind of distribution model, perhaps an Indian streaming version of Mubi, that can curate, provide a platform for critique and engage with Indian cinephile culture in a more democratic way. For instance, John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan and Aravindan’s Kumatty are circulating on the internet in newly restored prints, which makes the job of the Indian cinephile somewhat worrying, especially since these two films in particular deserve a legitimate DVD/Blu-Ray/Online release.

It is noble and right that preservation has started to become a significant issue in Indian cinema today and much work is being done to protect and preserve the legacy of Indian film history. But what is the point of this exercise in film preservation if ultimately only an elite actually get to see the newly restored Indian film classics? The initiative becomes counter productive to the field of Indian film studies if it does not aid the process of revising the history of Indian cinema, scholarly research and cinephile culture. By all means let us preserve, restore, exhibit Indian Cinema but we must also remember the significance of distribution – this is where an understanding, appreciation and love of Indian cinema is likely to have the greatest impact. But this change can only come about through investment in new, innovative and alternative distribution models.

THE APU TRILOGY / APUR SANSAR (Dir. Satyajit Ray, 1959, India) – The Wandering Soul

The Wandering Soul – A Video Essay on Apur Sansar (1959) by Omar ahmed

Film bloggers are evolving rapidly in the ways in which they analyse and appreciate film culture. The emergence of the video essay over the past few years has led to more a more visually sophisticated means of articulating close analysis of film directors, films and genres. The video essay in terms of film criticism seems to be an area that could lead to exciting creativity for cinephiles but putting together this first attempt at my own video essay on one of my personal favourites (Apur Sansar) has been a real learning curve in many ways. Constructing a video essay is certainly more demanding than the usual blog entry as it means effectively splicing in your own commentary alongside the film sequence you are analysing. It takes a lot of time and patience, and I’m not sure how successful I have been with my deconstruction. Admittedly, the video essay could have done with edits to different examples from Ray’s work but had I chosen to do this it would evolved into a mini project. Video essay work requires a different kind of approach if you are relying on text floating across the screen. I stepped back from the voice over option because a critical voice over commentary requires a certain gravitas – in fact it requires a degree of performance and acting. I will certainly give it a shot later on once I know how to record an effective voice over and it certainly seems to be the more popular option with film bloggers. Nevertheless, here is my first attempt at a video essay on Apur Sansar (1959), the final part of The Apu Trilogy. I have chosen one of the final sequences (a personal favourite) in which Apu attempts suicide and then renounces life. The other problem with video essays is that of copyright and whilst I don’t have permission to use this footage from the Artificial Eye DVD I have done so within an educational/film culture context so it will be interesting to see how long it takes before someone pulls the video. On a final note, the biggest difference between traditional blogging and video essays is to do with economy – with video essays you are against the clock (unless you keep freezing the image for a lengthy discussion) and this means having to be succinct and show great brevity.