At the JIO-MAMI film festival 2017

Five additions to your MAMI bucket list

Festival goers will miss out on great cinema if they only focus on big-ticket films, says Aseem Chhabra

Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2017 opens with Mukkabaaz, the new film by the city’s enfant terrible and the talented Anurag Kashyap. But this is also one of MAMI’s strongest years of programming with a terrific blend of films from the West — including some wonderful American productions and new Indian films. If Toronto International Film Festival is referred to as the festival of festivals, MAMI is quickly becoming a smaller version of the best, at least this side of the globe.

Given this year’s line-up, certain festival goers will definitely queue up for hours for the obvious titles — Call Me By Your Name, The Square, The Florida Project, Loveless, Wonderstruck, Beach Rats, Thelma and definitely Richard Linklater’s latest Last Flag Flying which got mixed reviews after screenings at the New York Film Festival. But there are many other gems that may not be on the audience’s radar. Here is my list of five must-see films that people might miss if they only focus on big-ticket titles.

Five additions to your MAMI bucket list

Centaur

A quiet story of a horse thief, Centaur comes from a place few look towards for good cinema — the former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan. It’s also the country’s official entry for the foreign language Oscar race. Director Aktan Arym Kubat (The Light Thief, 2010) plays the lead in this gorgeously shot film, with old-world charm, blended with local folklore, Islamic customs and vast sweeping landscapes with mountains, rivers and lush green valleys. And then there is the India touch in the form of Raj Kapoor’s legacy which is kept alive in this former Soviet Republic. The protagonist also runs a movie theatre and the most popular film he has played over the years is Sangam.

Chavela

Born in Costa Rica, Chavela Vargas made her name singing in small clubs in Mexico. She claimed to be the first woman to wear pants in the Southern American country and was openly lesbian. In tracking Vargas’s life, directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s documentary explores her highs and lows, her connections with a range of celebrities, and her romantic relationships. She had an affair with Frida Kahlo and even wrote songs about the artist. She attended Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding with Mike Todd in Acapulco where the wedding guests got drunk and many ended up having sex with each other. The next morning Vargas woke up in Ava Gardner’s bed.

Chavela’s life was so rich, but her addiction to alcohol pulled her career down. Late in her life, she resurfaced as a singer in Madrid and her fame grew thanks to support from her new friend Pedro Almodóvar. She sang for a number of Almodóvar films, including his last work Julieta.

Chavela is a fascinating and entertaining documentary, and it reintroduces the world to one of the most colourful and talented musicians of our times.

Five additions to your MAMI bucket list

City of Ghosts

The Syrian civil war started as a reaction to similar Arab Spring uprisings across the region. Now in its sixth year, the armed conflict has become more complex with various factions fighting amongst themselves. Often artists and filmmakers react to such developments with tributes to the heroes of the conflicts. New York-based Academy Award nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) has made one such film — City of Ghosts. It’s a documentary which tracks the efforts of a group of brave Syrian citizen journalists, the key players behind the organisation, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS).

First in Raqqa – still under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – and later as they find their way to Germany and live in a safe house, the RBSS journalists continue to report on the atrocities in the region. Heineman follows their activities – including a trip to New York City, where the journalists are feted by David Remnick of the New Yorker and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

City of Ghosts is a powerful documentary that works like a thriller, but the RBSS journalists are not there for excitement. They struggle daily with a dangerous and technologically advanced enemy, but are energised by the desire to get the truth out.

Five additions to your MAMI bucket list

Sweet Country

In 2009, Australian filmmaker Warwick Thorton won the Camera d’Or for Best Debut Feature at the Cannes festival for Samson and Delilah, a story about two young Aboriginals on the run from hard times. His new film Sweet Country is a western set in the early 20th century Australia, and it also follows an older couple on the run from racism and injustice.

An Aboriginal man kills a white man in self-defence, and that sets of a chase led by the law and bounty hunters. They are hardened men travelling through tough terrains, but few care for the reason behind the killing. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival Sweet Country’s narrative mirrors some of the key elements of classic Hollywood westerns, but the tone, the setting and the racial politics makes this a very Australian film.

The Wound

 

South African filmmaker and New York University graduate John Trengove’s debut film The Wound takes up the difficult subjects of machismo and homophobia in the country’s black Xhosa tribe. The backdrop of the film is a male circumcision ceremony where young men are taken off to a remote camp and mentored about tribal traditions by the elders of the community.

Some may compare the film to the 2017 Academy Award for Best Picture, Moonlight. Thematically both films examine masculinity in black communities, but the narratives set in different parts of the world, take very divergent paths.

The Wound is terrifically acted by an ensemble cast made up entirely of men, including the lead Nakhane Touré, who is also a writer and a musician.

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