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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Cinema Travellers documentary review: moving pictures, under threat

The Cinema Travellers green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
A marvelous film, so full of the wonder of movies, so melancholy about the changing cinema landscape, so hopeful that though the technology is changing, the love will endure.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female codirector, female coscreenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Touring Talkies. The two itinerant movie theaters we get to know in this delightful documentary call themselves some version of that name, which indicates how long they’ve been a mainstay of Indian culture. As do the decrepit projectors and beat-up prints on rusty reels their proprietors are making do with as The Cinema Travellers opens. With their first film, writer-directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya spent several years with Mohammed, whose roaming cinema has a literal carnival atmosphere because he often sets up his tent with the circus; Babu, who shows movies out of the back of a truck so ancient, no longer capable of moving under its own power, that it must be towed by a tractor into position; and Prakash, a repairer of broken-down projectors whose services are no longer in demand.

Movies in a tent: no longer the only way to get some diversion even in the most remote of villages.

Movies in a tent: no longer the only way to get some diversion even in the most remote of villages.

Their stories of struggling to make a living are a microcosm of how the way entertainment spreads culture has evolved over the decades, and how it is changing with ever-increasing speed today, when even the tiniest, most remote village, which would once have eagerly welcomed the travelling cinema showing years-old movies, is now well equipped with TVs and satellite dishes bringing them all the latest films. The men are weathering the transition with varying degrees of success: while Mohammed excitedly invests in a digital projector, Prakash concedes that he will never have any takers for the new kind of celluloid projector he invented. Yet the rapt faces of those who do still venture into the tents of the Touring Talkies speak to the power of movies. That priests will bless the quiet little digital projectors, anointing them with incense and ash just as they did the clunky old celluloid ones, suggests that cinema may continue to inspire an almost religious fervor in audiences in India (and perhaps elsewhere, too).

The Cinema Travellers won a special jury prize at Cannes in 2016, after which came a long festival run and a slew of awards, and rightly so. This is a marvelous film, so full of the wonder of movies, so melancholy about the changing cinema landscape, so hopeful that though the technology is changing, the love will endure.


The Cinema Travellers opens at Bertha DocHouse at Curzon Bloomsbury in London this Friday, January 26th. Also screening in Liverpool at Big Adventure Cinema for one show only on Friday January 26th.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.



green light 4.5 stars

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The Cinema Travellers (2018) | directed by Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya
UK/Ire release: Jan 26 2018

BBFC: not rated

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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