The Cinema Travellers Review
We are so used to having easy access to film whether it be via Video on demand, DVDs or at the local multiplex, that often we forget that to many across the globe, the pleasures of enjoying a film is considered a luxury. It is hard to imagine that magic and awe audiences felt seeing moving images for the first time back in the early days of cinema. However, The Cinema Travellers is the closest we get capturing that sense of wonder.
The documentary follows the lives of travelling cinemas in India as they travel from one isolated village to the next, bringing their projectors and reels of old films to the different communities. As the film unfolds, we discover that these showmen must learn to adapt to new technology if they are to continue turning over a profit. That means scrapping projectors and embracing digital technology which proposes a question, do we lose some of the magic and wonder of cinema if we no longer appreciate the projector and film reel with all his imperfections? As the film progresses it is clear that they will never make a decent living, investing in a Blu-ray player and a digital projector may pay off but with no guarantees.
We follow three different men who are linked to each other by the same sort of job; they are all part of the travelling cinema community. However, they all have the same issue, they are part of a dying trade. The film begins with us following business man Mohammed, who travels with fairgrounds to screen old Bollywood films, his small team comprised of people from all different walks of life. The projector they use is a big clunky hunk of junk which seems to break down throughout various parts of the documentary, it seems highly unreliable and is not bringing in enough money but it still brings s much joy to many people.
Despite the evident happiness, the travelling cinema struggles to bring in a large-enough crowd, despite the older people seeming more inclined to part with their money and sit down on the rocky ground to lose themselves. The team encounters a range of different problems and not all monetary, whether it be film reels turning up late or monsoons halting proceedings. On one night they have to resort to showing pornography to shift more tickets and it's a quite a depressing sight.
Bapu, uses a rundown rotting truck to travel to even more rural villages. Again, his travelling cinema encounters similar problems, these villagers are no longer interested in watching old films and some even have access to satellite television. The cinema brings joy to the children, however, as they are allowed free entry and some of the film's most beautiful and charming scenes are when we see the children transfixed by the images on the screen and then when they get up to join in with the musical numbers. It is heartbreaking to see the truck crumbling, as Bapu and his friend debate whether there will be a cinema or if it's time to call it quits and scrape the projector and the truck for just a few hundred dollars. Hope and salvation may lay in the purchase of a laptop, and digital projector but they are cautious about using the new technology unless they receiving their Goddess' blessing.
The final man of focus, Prakash, is a seventy-year-old projector repair man. He has been fixing machines for 45 years and runs his own business from a shack with a leaky roof and has few. His story is fascinating as he details how he became obsessed with projectors when he went to the cinema for the first time as a child. Seeing his passion for cinema is heartbreaking, it will be hard not to be moved by his scenes, whether you're a hard core cinephile or just a casual film watcher. This man has invested his entire life into the preservation of the art form, only to be replaced by a machine and soon forgotten about.
Directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya have managed to capture a world that many of us are unaware of and they give us a honest look into the lives of these three men. It is a world that is so far away from the comforts of our multiplex cinemas with our reclining seats and air conditioning. The Cinema Travellers reinforces Tom Gunning's theory of “The Cinema of Attraction” which discusses how cinema during it's early period (1895-1906) was seen as a novelty, a fairground attraction where people could be thrilled by the moving images and the technology involved. It may be one hundred and twenty two years later but there are still many places across the world where people do not take spectatorship for granted and still find wonder in the sight of the moving image.
The Cinema Travellers has received a lot of critical praise and buzz from the film festival circuits. It received a standing ovation at its premiere at The Cannes Film Festival in 2016, and it deserves all of its praise and positive reception. I can't recommend this film enough - it should be used within any Film Studies spectatorship module - there is warmth and humanity here to keep all viewers entertained and invested. As the LA Times concluded in its report on Cannes, The Cinema Travellers is “the most involving films on film history.” It is a film which proves that despite language and cultural barriers, a love for cinema is still something that unites us all.