The sheer charm of Madheshiya & Abraham’s THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS is clear from the outset. The documentary follows the last pioneers of travelling cinema in India, and shows — without any added gloss or vanity — the difficulties its entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. In amongst the minor disasters of stuck vans, rainfall and damaged reels, the film gives an insight into the sheer power cinema can still bring to audiences in a huge range of circumstances. Far from being a twee or self-indulgent ode to film-making, however, the film is a touching and skillful piece about human struggle and delight.
The visuals throughout are striking, capitalising on elegant cinematography, and inventive editing, and, at points, there is a cinematic feel that is almost more reminiscent of fiction filmmaking, than documentary. Often forgotten or somewhat of an after-thought, the use of B-Roll throughout this film is purposeful and engaging — it consistently helps the audience to better understand the story, and to see the world of the film through the protagonists’ eyes.
Given that the film does not make any use of voiceover or graphic text — an unusual path to go down for feature-length documentaries — the pressure on its sound and visuals to engage an audience is even greater than usual. Throughout, the artful use of sound design means that the audience are pulled with consistently gripping intensity through the narrative. At times, diegetic sound is solely used, allowing the audience to experience the protagonists’ reality with them. At other points, additional music has been composed to help the narrative along within the world of the film. The regular transitions between these states is very impressive, and means that there is never a moment of lull or confusion — which is hugely impressive for a documentary working without additional guiding voices or graphics.
The Cinema Travellers is a touching look at the lengths to which cinephiles go to share their artform.
This is not to say, however, that THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS is built solely through the filmmakers’ box of technical tricks. Rather, what really energises this film is the pure passion of its protagonists, and the magic associated throughout the film with the process of cinema. Through careful camera work and tasteful editing, the film brings its audience into their haphazard, joyful world of the travelling cinema to experience the trials and joys of it along with them. In this way, the film’s key characters are its real strength; they are well-chosen, well-observed individuals who power the narrative with their charm.
THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS is a hugely touching look at the enormous lengths to which cinephiles go to share the artform they love. The pairing of its warm, charming protagonists with its highly elegant and cinematic shooting style means the film has a very unusual feel — it is at once almost bumbling and sweet, while also being a fierce tour de force of filmmaking skill. Perhaps most importantly, though, it is a real celebration of cinema itself, and it is an invigorating display of how the medium continues to inspire and delight.
THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS screens at Cambridge Film Festival at 19:00 on Monday 23rd October in the Moving Cinema, and at 12:30 on Thursday 26th October in The Arts Picturehouse. Click here to buy tickets.