Meru

 

Quite possibly one of the best documentaries I have watched in recent times. A deserved winner of the US Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2015, it is gripping, inspiring, and visually spectacular!

The Shark’s Fin route on Mount Meru, in the Indian Himalayas, is a route that has thwarted some of the world’s most elite climbers. The 21,000 foot peak contains nearly every type of surface a high wall climber will experience in their career, all combined in one treacherous route. Many a climber has attempted it before but up until the filming of “Meru,” not a single one had succeeded.

Accomplished mountaineer Conrad Anker, a man with an impressive history of mountaineering and  first ascents, teamed up with fellow mountaineer and friend Jimmy Chin, and expedition film-maker Renan Ozturk, to attempt scaling the peak. The documentary “Meru” is their story.

Like the peak they are attempting to climb, the characters themselves are larger than life. Conrad, a hardy, rugged, mountaineer, the man who found Mallory’s body on Everest, and who, himself, has summited the iconic peak 3 times. A man driven to incredible feats of strength and endurance in an effort to quell demons from his past. Jimmy Chin, the laid back counter-balance to Conrad’s intensity, an accomplished climber in his own right, yet one who jokes and quips like a stoner surf bum, despite being inches from death. Renan Ozturk is the quiet one, but don’t let that fool you. As you will see, he is a man with incredible hidden reserves of strength and determination. Featuring additional commentary and insights from renowned author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, as well as commentary from the climbers themselves, “Meru” will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

This is not some boring climbing story suitable only for mountaineers. No instead this is a documentary with all the elements of a Hollywood thriller. It keeps you guessing with unexpected plot twists, contains moments of tragedy and awe, and it is incredibly inspiring! At the same time it’s informative, as a documentary should be, and it’s beautifully filmed. In fact it is hard to conceive how it was actually filmed given the conditions they were climbing under.

But more than the stunning scenery it’s the story that grabs hold of your attention and doesn’t let go. Time and again I see documentaries which highlight the power of the human mind and spirit over adversity, yet every time I continue to be amazed at what human beings can accomplish. A film like this puts your own life into perspective and you realise that all those things that are troubling you, that are holding you back, are insignificant, and that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. There are so many lessons to be learned from the film “Meru,” lessons about perseverance, courage, determination, loyalty and friendship. I urge you to watch this film even if you don’t have the slightest interest in mountaineering. Trust me you wont regret it.

Watch the trailer here:

 

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An interview with Damon Gameau, Writer/Director – That Sugar Film

Damon Gameau

 I loved ‘That Sugar Film.’ It was entertaining and explained the science and dangers of sugar in an easy to understand way. (read my review here).

The film has met with massive worldwide success, ensuring international recognition for the Writer/ Director, and star of the movie, Damon Gameau.

Damon was kind enough to spare some time from his busy travel schedule to answer some of our questions:

Documentary Dude This, I understand, was your first major film? What made you decide on a documentary and why about sugar?

Damon Gameau There were so many conflicting views about it in the press that I wanted to find out the truth for myself and share that with people.

DD How long did the film take to make?

DG 3 years from idea to delivery. The edit and special FX process took 9 months.

DD Did you have the finished product in mind at the beginning or did the whole thing grow organically?

DG Very organically due to the nature of the narrative; an experiment. I was also sure that we wanted to make it sugary and fun and use all the trick that the food industry use to win us over.

DD I was surprised to see Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry in the film. What made them get involved?

DG They knew we were trying to get the message to children. Most people are disturbed by the growing level of diet related diseases in our children. They were very keen to help spread the message

DD What I loved about the film is that the science is explained simply and it’s a film suitable for all ages. Was that a conscious decision?

DG Absolutely. These type of docos can often be dry and too ‘heady’. We really wanted to make an educational film that could be shared and enjoyed by the whole family. I think making people laugh no matter what information you are sharing is very important.

DD Were there any major problems you faced while filming?

DG Just trying to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar day and make a film was very tough. We were travelling with just a cameraman and myself and it was exhausting. We were doing sound, lights, camera, interviews and green screen travelling the world jacked up on sugar.

DD At any time during the 60 days were you scared or worried about what was happening to your health?

DG Towards the end I was. My girlfriend was heavily pregnant and I had a real fear of missing the birth. That would have been horrible.

DD How difficult was it for you to give up sugar the first time?

DG Very easily because I didn’t realize I was doing it, it just happened naturally over a few months.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to give up or reduce the amount of sugar in their diet?

DG Be gentle and kind to yourself. Use fruit as a transition sweetener and trust that your taste buds will adjust. Remember too that you aren’t ‘quitting’ anything or giving it up..you are reducing and stepping into a much better, happier and consistent way of living. 

DD What tips would you give for someone having sugar cravings?

DG Healthy fats like avocado, nuts or a coconut product is great.

DD How has the film itself changed or impacted your life?

DG Enormously. We have been overwhelmed with how it has been received. I know too much now and will always have this topic close to my heart no matter what other films I make.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to make their first documentary?

DG Assemble a wonderful team and trust the power of collaboration. Things get more magical when you can surrender ego. Also, always tell the truth, the audience demands that in a doco and make something that really captures your heart because it can be a long process to get it made.

DD The film has met with great success. What next for you? Have you been inundated with offers for a next project ?

DG I have some ideas but am not rushing into anything. I want to enjoy being a Dad for a while. The film has robbed me of that a little bit this year with all the travelling.

DD Where can people find/follow you online?

DG thatsugarfilm.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

That Sugar Film
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Amy

“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough” – Tony Bennett

Most of you reading this will already know who Amy Winehouse is. A young singer/songwriter from England whose albums met with significant commercial and critical success worldwide and whose private life was the subject of countless column inches in the international press. Her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction were well known and her behaviour and appearance at public events was often the subject of ridicule. The world lost a great talent when she died at such a young age from after an alcohol and drug fuelled binge.

But how and why did all this happen?

Directed by Asif Kapadia, of ‘Senna‘ fame, ‘Amy’ the documentary, goes a significant way into helping us try and understand the public pressures and inner demons that drove Amy Winehouse into the lifestyle that eventually killed her. Using home video and often commentary from Amy herself we are given an intimate look into her career, her private life and her relationships with friends and family.
It is a tragic story and the behaviour of some of those close to her leaves a lot to be desired. It saddens me deeply when I see people driven by greed exploiting their so called “loved ones” for their own enrichment. The old saying: “you can choose your friends but you cant choose your relatives” certainly rings true in Amy Winehouse’s life. As a counterbalance though, to her family’s behaviour, the conduct of some of her close friends is to be admired as they stick with her through thick and thin, lending much needed support whenever it was needed

After watching ‘Amy’ I have a lot more respect for Amy Winehouse as a person and feel ashamed that I had previously formed a judgement of her based on press reports of her addictions. One never knows what is really going on in others’ lives and what drives them to do the things they do.

Whilst the subject matter is sad , ‘Amy’ is a great documentary with a fabulous soundtrack and one I highly recommend viewing.

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Batkid Begins

 

I watched this on the plane and I must confess to getting teary eyed on numerous occasions and having to turn my head so the aircrew didn’t see me crying! A beautiful story about people uniting together in a common cause, this film restores your faith in the human race.

In 2013 the Make a Wish Foundation decided to grant the wish of Miles Scott, a 5 year old leukemia survivor: the wish to be Batman for the day. What started out as a small event, took on a life of it’s own, as people became enthused by the idea. It expanded to massive proportions, much more than the Make a Wish Foundation ever imagined, until the whole city of San Francisco came out in support. ‘Batkid Begins’ is the story of how it all happened

The fact that people devote their lives to making children’s wishes come true is incredible enough, but to see thousands of people with no vested interest come together was amazing. The outpouring of support from complete strangers makes one feel good again about humanity.

There are some important lessons in this film. That people are inherently good. That serving others is more rewarding than doing things for yourself, and perhaps more facetiously, that social media can have a good side.
Social media often gets a lot of criticism but events in ‘Batkid Begins’ demonstrate that it can be used for the greater good. That the power of to reach a widener audience instantly helped contribute to bring about a sense of community in a city of 850,000 people

One can also learn a lot from the actions of young Miles. Unlike us cynical and disbelieving adults, he never once doubted or questioned whether his wish would happen, and during the day took it all in his stride thinking that he becoming Batman was normal.

One small boy’s wish to be superhero for the day made a whole city realise what is important; compassion, and by doing this he became an actual superhero, more real than the Batman he admired.

In a world filled with bad news,‘Batkid Begins’ gives you hope.

The director of the film, Dana Nachman, is donating the entire proceeds from the film to the Batkid Fund, a foundation which benefits the Make A Wish foundation amongst others.

 

Batkid Begins
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Bottom In De Road

Bottom in de road

The concept of physical beauty is a subjective one. It differs from person to person, but also from country to country and it always interests me to find out what is considered attractive in other cultures.

Previously I had watched the documentary ‘Iranian Nose’, about how Iran leads the world in plastic surgery for noses. When I visited Iran myself, I was amazed at their love for “Michael Jackson” noses and the extent people would go to, to have them recreated on their faces.

The documentary ‘Bottom in de Road‘ as the title suggests, looks at another culture’s concept of beauty, namely the Carribean Man’s fascination for the female bottom.

Directed by Oyetayo Ojoade  and his wife Sharon Syriac,  the documentary is set in Trinidad, where admiration for the female posterior is such a part of the culture that a whole lexicon of expressions have sprung up around the subject with names for different shapes and sizes, and even songs composed on the attributes of the female bottom. Men have developed a whole philosophy around women’s derrieres and quite matter of factly discuss the subject on camera as if they are discussing the merits of a fine wine.

To an outsider like me, I struggled to find the attractiveness in the subject, particularly when many of the bottoms shown, and considered attractive, seemed to belong to people who were morbidly obese. My wife who watched the film with me was in fact angered by “the objectification of women”. However the film included many interviews with women who discussed the topic as if it was quite  normal. I guess this is what makes the world such an interesting place and demonstrates how we must live and let live. Every culture has a different idea of beauty.

Various reasons were expoused by scholars and religious leaders for this obsession, some quite nonsensical, and to be honest I didn’t find the film very educational. As a slice of life and an insight into another culture, however, it is mildly entertaining and at one hour, not to long to sit through.

Not a film I would rush to see but that’s just me. If you have an hour to kill, like “big butts”, or wish to spend it being mildly amused then take a look.

‘Bottom in de Road’ is currently doing the rounds of the film festivals and you can view the film’s trailer here:

Bottom in de Road on Facebook

An Interview with Babita Modgil – Producer, Belly of The Tantra/Sudden Cry

Babita Modgil

 

“Banned, Censored & Offensive: The Not-So-Freedom of Speech”

 

Indian Film-maker, Babita Modgil produced and directed the controversial film ‘Belly of The Tantra’ which examined the often shocking lifestyles and practices of members of the Aghori sect of Shaivite Hinduism in India. The film ‘ruffled a few feathers’ and ended up being banned for a while by the Indian Government. It has since been released for public viewing and has been doing the rounds of the film festivals. Many of the scenes in the film are quite disturbing.

You can read my review of ‘Belly of The Tantra’ here, and  also subsequent interviews with the Director, Pankaj Purohit, and Producer, Jeremy Weaver.

Babita Modgil’s current project is the documentary film ‘Sudden Cry’, a look into the sinister world of child trafficking, to be released in 2016.

In the following candid interview, Babita Modgil talks about the struggles and difficulties she encounters as a female documentary film-maker in India:

Question The Documentaries ‘Belly of The Tantra’, ‘Tathagata’ and now ‘Sudden Cry’ are all unconventional films to come out of India. What intrigued you to the hard-hitting topics featured throughout these films?

Answer ‘Belly’ was an attempt to fearlessly touch my belief system. It significantly compromised my identity as a dedicated follower of Hinduism. It was extremely challenging for me to comprehend the fact that being a Hindu could reach extreme levels far greater than simply chanting mantras.
These followers who sacrifice animals, consume human flesh, indulge in sex with virgin girls in order to attain power to appease their Gods & Goddesses were also Hindus. God, to me, has always been very peculiar and I am unsure of his or her existence. If God does exist, I am uncertain of the form God inhabits. It is scary, thinking of a scenario, where one talks to God and then suddenly God starts talking back. For instance, if God comes into someone’s dream and says kill and they then set out to kill. This is the kind of one-dimensional mindset many so-called religious people can have.
I needed to have the courage to break my conditioning through the process of ‘Belly’ and as the film progressed, it became very difficult for me to understand my own religion and their version of that same religion.

Q. What intrigued you about the taboo nature of religion touched on in ‘Belly’?

A. Today, religion has become the most successful business throughout the world because you can simply sell fear in the name of God and nobody is going to question you. Unfortunately, this is especially true in a country like India. And even worse, if a woman questions God and the ways of worship, it becomes a greater blasphemy and her voice will be undeniably crushed.
I wonder how far we have really evolved as a humanity when we sacrifice reality in the name of fiction and when we live our lives based on some books that were written thousands of years ago. When Pankaj Purohit, the director of ‘Belly of the Tantra’, pitched me the film, I was very intrigued because I was about to tap into something that was totally unfamiliar to me. Questions like – Why most religions are fear based; why does an individual need a religion in the first place; why do we worship some unknown entity called God; if God is one then why do we all have different religions; and why do we all want to prove that our God is superior to another’s God?

Q. As a female filmmaker, did any of your discoveries about Hinduism from ‘Belly’, carry over to your process when filming ‘Sudden Cry’?

A. In ‘Sudden Cry’, I’m challenging our hypocritical society. On one hand, based on the scriptures, India worships many Goddesses in female form and worships holy rivers named after those Goddesses, but on the other hand, many of those same people buy and sell little girls and forcefully push them to be sex slaves and prostitutes.
I want to know what kind of culture we’re living in and I look for those answers in my work as a filmmaker. Where have we reached as a society? Child trafficking and sex slavery has turned out to be the second most profitable and criminal industry in the world. Disturbingly, India is rated in the top 5 of unsafe nations for women and young girls in the world. We have crossed all the limits of greed as human beings here. India says we have evolved and I am not sure about that. It is a great concern for me as a woman and as an artist.
I remember a man once told me publicly that he can rape me, murder me and get away with it. In India, a man thinks he can do whatever he wants with a woman’s body. He thinks it only becomes rape when the woman objects and at that point, it is the woman that has made the act a “problem” and therefore, if a woman simply keeps her mouth shut and does not oppose, there would be no “rape”. To further distort and make the scenario even more of an already perverse violation, the man will then let the woman know that he is able to buy anyone and everyone in the corrupt system.
A woman in India has no choice when it comes to rape. Rather than an issue to address and abolish, rape has become a joke. As a humanity, we have become numb to issues like these. We believe in turning our backs and saying, “Thank God it did not happen to me.” It’s unfortunate that our society is slowly and gradually becoming regressive and that is not a good sign for any kind of progressive spirit for any nation. Disappointingly, as a female or an artist, there is no place in India for a woman like me.

Q. Very few women venture into such out of the box filmmaking. Did you feel apprehensive stepping into the field?

A. I believe in doing films that can stretch the humanity & morality of the self and the collective. Whether or not a film changes the world is not the point, but making an attempt to further our awareness is what I find most compelling and motivating. When I did ‘Belly’, it became very clear that I am ultimately on a path where I will face a lot of opposition and hurdles in creating something significant. It was absolutely frightening because we were exposed to the extreme fundamentalism of Hinduism and the opposition can go to extreme lengths to damage us. I was very fortunate to have had a team who stood with me and continues to be very passionate about the work I do.
During the filming of ‘Belly’, a group of tantriks tried to rape me while I was shooting in a shmashan ghat, where women are forbidden. It was a narrow escape. I did a lot of thinking about the kind of projects I pursued and realized that I could have died in the process. With ‘Belly’, I was threatened by fanatic Hindu groups many times and with ‘Sudden Cry’, I faced opposition, threats from the authorities and told not to film or ask important questions about the illegal prostitution of children. It’s clearly not something they want seen. I was attacked by a mob in Mandsaur while filming ‘Sudden Cry’ and they demanded that I give them my camera. I retreated to prevent the footage I had already filmed from being destroyed. Even groups such as Shiv Sena and VHP contacted me in person and over the phone and told me not to screen ‘Belly’ when complete. The Indian government went on to ban ‘Belly of the Tantra.’
I believe in showing a mirror to the society through my work. My relentless passion keeps me going, but it can be extremely challenging. At times, it feels futile. I make projects that I strongly believe in. I am glad that people across the world have watched ‘Belly’ and it has received tremendous respect across the globe. My hope is that ‘Sudden Cry’ finds an audience as well so the children affected get help. My film is for them above all else so how can I not pursue it?

Q. The banning trend in India is rampant. Do you feel that the audiences are turning a blind eye to a number of social issues not because of what they will learn about the issue, but rather what the issue will teach them about themselves?

A. The hypocrisy of Indian society and it’s system is so deep-rooted and corrupt, that it does not want to see it’s own face in the mirror. The reality jumps
and bites your ass. It stings. Intelligentsia in India wants to keep on projecting it’s so-called modern and progressive global image of the ‘ever-so growing’ India that they have completely ignored to fix the very basics of human rights. Women are violated every possible way. They’d rather sweep it under the rug. We helplessly can’t speak up as women. If you do muster up the courage, you will be punished. How can a country progress when their women and children feel unsafe because they are constantly in fear of getting raped, abused and killed? Is that progress? Is that evolution?
Instead of working on the issues of sex slavery and child trafficking, our government has started to ban projects that shed light on those ‘hush hush’ and important humanitarian problems. This is outrageous. I ask, what kind of democracy is there when a Nirbhaya rapist is roaming freely? This is why there are constant cases of rape and sexual abuse happening throughout India. Because of the corrupt system and rotten bureaucracy, no change has even been attempted. It is simple and tragic. The Indian justice system is so docile that they do not want to punish the rapist. It has become an ugly, dark and brutal comedy with horrific themes. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I know that parents teach their girls to behave, but I have not yet seen boys being told to do the same. Of course they’ll ban me because I don’t say things they want to hear. Currently, it’s regressive vs. progressive battling in India. It’s possibly the worst scenario ever.

Q. Financial funding for projects such as yours can be hard to acquire. Have you faced major financial difficulties in any of your ventures?

A. Financially, it’s been extremely difficult. All the time. Money is difficult to come by for the kind of projects we make. In India, because the vast majority of films are Bollywood Masala, any film that attempts to provoke social and political acknowledgment and change is not considered at all. In our current culture, we’d rather feast on lollipops than anything with substance. Filmmakers in India neither attempt nor receive funding for projects that really affect social change. Because I am compelled to those kinds of projects, money is extremely elusive and financing becomes impossible. Bollywood is full of fluff paid for by businessmen claiming to be artists. Name one really substantial Indian film to affect any social change or global awareness in the past 10 years?

Q. What about artistically and humanely?

A. Artistically, I cry. I can certainly understand the notion of selling out to a business in order to make money, but if I solely follow that path, I will not contribute to anything essential and will perpetuate the lack of awareness, effort and meaning. I cannot do that. It feels unnatural to me. Overall, it’s very unfortunate to be stifled in this way because of the industry’s priorities to produce inconsequential and mediocre entertainment. I have done everything possible to make my films happen. I’ve sold my land, I’ve sold my jewellery. Humanely, you fight. I get up everyday and assert that I am not going to get bogged down by all the meaningless bullshit.

Q. As a woman and artist, you have faced innumerable setbacks while unraveling the hidden truths of the world. What are some incidents that will live on in your conscience? Has there ever been an incident that caused you to re-evaluate your line of work?

A. Well, injustice is happening right under our noses and we are willing to murder at any cost. Look what happened in New Delhi. Akhlaq was stone pelted and killed by hundreds of Hindu men. That wasn’t the society and tradition I grew up with. We were taught India “is all peace and love.” These harsher realities I had to discover through my art. And now I question – where is the democracy? Where is secularism? What kind of a nation are we becoming?
My work has made me think a lot about our society on an individual level and on the collective level as to where we came from and where we are headed. As far as setbacks, women have been setback ever since our scriptures were written. Sita had to go through fire to prove her character. In Mahabharata, Draupadi’s husband wagered her in a gamble and lost her. She was then stripped naked in front of the public and presented so everyone knew she was under new ownership. In our society, women are enslaved and a woman is only property to a man. Nothing more. For me, it’s extremely difficult to play that role. Sometimes I fear for my life because the gruesome reality is that I can be traded, beaten or killed anytime like a piece of meat. Recently in Delhi, a two-year old little girl was abducted and raped. She’s still in the hospital because she bled profusely. How long will we allow this to continually go on? It’s well past the time for women to stand up and demand change. It’s about our dignity and respect.

Q. How important is social media to documentary filmmakers like you? Do you feel that it helps or harms the cause?

A. What I like most about social media is that it is a two-way communication. You can express anything and you will inevitably get a response. There is an immediate possibility of a dialogue. Social media is a great instrument for independent filmmakers like us. You can reach your audience not just locally, but also globally. It gives you a platform. When the system tries to cage your voice, the internet gives you freedom to communicate, a tremendous opportunity and a significant outlet. With ‘Belly’, the system was against us, but social media loved us. We became popular, not only because of what we were doing, but also because of the extent at which we could share our work. The industry knows of us now. They’ve acknowledged what we’re making and how we’re communicating. They know we’re here to stay.

Q. After ‘India’s Daughter’ and A.R.’s (Music Producer A.R.Rahman)fatwa how do you feel you are affected as an artist and human being?

A. Leslee Udwin was threatened, pushed and challenged. A.R. Rahman was given fatwa. I was almost raped by a mob in Central India. I was asking for help and the cops simply stood there and then turned their backs on me. We somehow managed to flee from there. There was a moment when I realized that this could be my last day alive. In those thirty seconds, I realized how circumstances are much larger than an individual. They had almost unclothed me.
India has become unsafe and uncivilized for any progressive woman. There is neither freedom of speech nor freedom of choice. Sadly, it has become a threat not just for me, but for any artist that aspires to create informative, journalistic, edgy and compelling work that has the ability to reach a global audience and affect change. It’s an ongoing challenge fighting that psychology everyday.

Q. How does a woman in India create stories that will inform the world?

A. They can’t. I don’t feel safe in India and neither do many other women. There is constant fear of getting attacked all the time. Acid attacks have been rampant. Rapes and murders are common with the assailants walking free. They say, “Well, just gotta be behind bars for 6 months and that’s it.” The government and authorities play mute and dumb, thereby encouraging more crime. I believe that they just don’t want strict punishments.
The Indian laws are old and obsolete and criminals have long known how to navigate the law. Basically, they don’t fear the law. Also, many of our politicians have been criminals themselves. Shockingly, goons become politicians here. The whole system is corrupt. This is the kind of government we have which is protecting the culprits by not giving them punishment.
Look what happened with Nirbhaya. She did not get security when she was alive and there was no justice after her death. Delayed justice is denied justice. Why wasn’t her case fast-tracked? A six-year old girl was raped with an iron rod. Who does that to a little child? The government does nothing. Of course I feel insecure. The silence has become the conspiracy and I feel we have become numb to this. These crimes have become routine, the news has become routine and the police inquiry has become routine. In the rare scenario if and when justified inquiry does happen, the system will then give lame half-truths until no more questions can be asked. These half-truths are as bad as lies. We absolutely need much more than that for any significant change to begin. The whole psychology has to be altered.

Q. How did these issues affect the process of filming ‘Sudden Cry’?

A. It made it impossible. It was not just difficult, it became absolutely impossible. I have been working on this documentary for three years. We are dealing with grotesque criminals here and selling innocent girls is their business. Cops are substantially bribed and are involved in it and then the government gets their cut and everybody is kept happy. The entire system is part of the business and is an active enabler.
Just because India now has some high-rise buildings and we’ve starting driving fancy cars and wearing Gucci and Armani, our minds haven’t changed. It is suffocating to live in that kind of environment. Our youth has the potential to fight this corruption, but they are kept in the dark. As hopeless as this may sound, they are forced to believe and accept the old, corrupt mindset and ways of life and as unaware as they are conditioned to be, they do nothing to challenge or evolve out of the defunct system. I don’t see any revolution happening here. We have succumbed to degeneracy. When a society accepts dysfunction in this way, the whole humanity is in danger. It is a threatening and fatal circumstance.

Q. Will you continue to make these controversial projects?

A. I don’t know that I’ll be able to. That’s a two-fold question. I don’t believe that the things I am saying should be categorized as ‘controversial’ in the first place. Facts are facts. I am showing truth in my projects and truth alone is not controversial. It can be hard hitting. My projects raise questions that are necessary. Through good journalism and documentaries, questions can be raised to alter things politically, socially and judiciously. Indian society wears a thick veil of hypocrisy and it can’t seem to stomach the truth.
I make projects that shine a spotlight on how we perversely live as human beings – not because I want to indulge in slanderous accusations and ruffle feathers – but because I deeply care about my fundamental rights and the well-being of those that also occupy a place in this world. I want to see the conditions improved.
It’s difficult to find your unique, authentic voice in this culture. We as a society are recklessly going backward. Tell me, where is the morality here? It has become lost underneath the piles of meaningless cash and everything we work for goes to simply making a quick buck.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your future projects.

A. ‘Sudden Cry’ will come out in March 2016 and we are also in development for a feature length thriller, ‘The Rope in the Darkness’, about a woman’s self-discovery during a horrific cult experience.

 

You can follow Babita Modgil on Twitter here

Babita Modgil's Sudden Cry

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

 

“I keep striving to reach the top…… but no-one knows where the top is” – Jiro Ono

There is no denying that Japanese culture is very different from Western culture. I don’t mean the obviously visible signs like Bonsai, Geisha, Kimonos, etc. What I mean is the Japanese way of thinking. The way that, in so many things, they strive for perfection, for mastery of an art. This is evident in their gardens, their martial arts, their manufacturing, and as this film demonstrates, in their food.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ is a documentary examining the life of 85 year old Jiro Ono, Chef and owner of the Sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. Although only having 10 seats and specialising in one type of food, Sushi, the restaurant has been awarded 3 Michelin Stars.

Despite his advanced years, Jiro Ono continues to work daily, perfecting and refining the art of making Sushi. His fame is such that one has to book a year in advance for a chance to eat in his tiny restaurant.

The documentary, conducted entirely in Japanese (with English subtitles), is beautifully filmed, accentuating the skill involved in the preparation of Sushi. Slow motion footage of the chefs preparing each item is like watching a ballet of their hands, turning the whole process into an art form.

The amount of preparation involved is phenomenal for what is essentially rice and fish. The ingredients are examined minutely to ensure the temperature, freshness, and quality are at their best. This perfectionism even extends to the suppliers who have devoted their lives to providing only the finest ingredients. Their loyalty is commendable and demonstrates that they are not motivated by money alone.

The film also has a sub-story underlying the main narrative, the story of Jiro’s eldest son Yoshikazu, now in his 50’s,  who assists his father in the day to day running of the business

and who will one day take over the restaurant.

One can’t help but feel sorry for the son. He has a huge legacy to live up to and no matter what he does will always be compared to his father. He may never be appreciated for his own efforts despite the fact that most of the preparation for the Sushi has been done by Yoshikazu and the kitchen-hands before the ingredients reach Jiro.

To my mind, and I am sure to many in the West, to work this long under one’s father would seem like a sentence rather than an opportunity. However long apprenticeships with a master seem to be an expected and respected career path in Japan. It is not uncommon for the kitchen-hands to apprentice for at least 10 years before they are considered anywhere competent enough to handle more difficult preparations.

Jiro says in an early part of the film, “Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.That is the secret to success and the key to being regarded honourably.”

Having experienced so many different careers in my own life, a life half the length of Jiro’s, this idea is hard for me to comprehend. The thought that I would spend my whole life doing the same thing fills me with dread, yet Jiro seems to be content and exudes a zen-like calmness at all times.

Perhaps that is the secret to finding inner peace. To focus on one thing and master it, rather than constantly looking outwards for the next thing, the next occupation, in the hope that it will make us happy.

I don’t know but watching ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ does make you think and re-examine your own priorities.

I am tempted to pay a visit to his restaurant when next in Japan but I am not sure how comfortable I would be eating in front of Jiro, given that he makes one item at a time waiting for you to finish eating before starting on the next. However I am keen to find out how something that looks so simple can taste so much better than other restaurants, enough that people will book so much in advance to eat there!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
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Cutie and The Boxer

What a lovely film.

At first I thought it was just a documentary about an artist and the inspiration behind his work. As a writer I like to find out what makes an artist tick, what inspires them and their daily routine.

But ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ is more than that. In fact it’s a love story. It’s a film where the subtext becomes the movie itself. It’s a film about sacrifice, about putting your own dreams on hold while you look after someone else, someone with a stronger personality. It’s about finding your own feet later in life, gaining a renewed independence, an inner confidence, and finally realising the dream that had been locked away because life just got in the way.

The Boxer is Ushio Shinohara. He has an unusual way of painting. Donning a pair of giant boxing gloves, he dips them in paint, and punches the canvas, pounding it over and over again until, exhausted and panting, he stops, the canvas covered in huge coloured blotches.

Cutie is his wife of 40 years, Noriko, also an artist. Twenty years his junior she has spent their marriage living in his shadow. Noriko has been through a lot; her husband was an alcoholic, and for much of their life they have been poor, living a bare bones existence in their cluttered, shambling apartment in New York.

In the beginning the film’s star is Ushio, but as the story unfolds it becomes more about Noriko  and how after 40 years of sublimating herself to her husband’s art, she is finding her own voice, her own expression though her art, the style of which, is at the opposite end of the spectrum to her husband’s.

They are a study in contrasts, he very physical and loud in his painting, she seemingly more delicate and studied in her art, but underlying this one senses in her a strength and steely resolve.

Their art is their life, to the extent that even though they struggle to make ends meet, to pay the rent, and live in a shambolic, leaking apartment filled with the detritus of their life, they still draw and paint every day.

At times you are puzzled as to whether Cutie is unhappy or not. They both obviously love each other despite the difficulties of their lives together and they interact with the comfort of a couple who have been in each others company for many years. But there are moments when you  see the pain in her eyes and sense that there are a lot of emotions that she has suppressed.

What is encouraging to see, especially in a world where now people seem to split up at the slightest opportunity, is that they do still disagree, they do still argue and bicker, but underneath all that there is a love and affection for each other, which has kept them together for so long.

There is no narration, no introduction, the only background to the couple being explained in a series of animations, illustrations by Cutie herself. A lot of the dialogue is in Japanese and the cameras follow the couple throughout the day. There is also old film footage from when the couple were younger, including during Ushio’s wild drinking sessions with his friends. It’s cleverly filmed and I am a fan of this style of documentary where the subject seems completely unaware of the camera crew and the viewer becomes a fly on the wall. Apparently the film took 5 years to make, because it was two years before the couple stopped playing to the camera.

I understand ‘Cutie and The Boxer’ is the first film by Zachary Heinzerling, a filmmaker only in his twenties, and it’s a masterpiece. Certainly someone to watch in the future!

Cutie And The Boxer
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The True Cost

 

“…will we be satisfied with a system that makes us feel rich while leaving our world so desperately poor? ………will we continue to search for happiness in the consumption of things?” – Andrew Morgan, Writer/Director

This is a disturbing film. Disturbing because we are all in some way involved, and disturbing because it is not easy to see a solution.

The documentary ‘The True Cost’ looks into the world of fashion and examines the consequences of cheap High Street fashion, or ‘fast fashion’ as it’s termed in the film.

In the 1960’s, 95% of America’s clothing was made in the US. Now only 3% is. It’s all outsourced to other countries where the labour costs are lower. We now have cheaper, readily accessible clothing but what, as the name of the film implies, is the real cost?

Criss-crossing the world, from cat walk to factory, the film examines the horrific effect of pesticides on cotton crops, the exploitation of workers, the poor working conditions in the sweat shops of countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, the piles of recycled clothing dumped in third world countries.

All while the huge fashion companies are raking in record profits.

The film is not all negative though and also highlights people who have decided to make a change for the positive, organisations such as Fair Trade and People Tree who are ensuring the use of organic cotton and a fair wage for workers.

The problem is, what do we do? We all need clothing, we all want cheap clothing. The garment worker needs work and the conditions in a garment factory while horrible for us, are often a better and safer option than the other work available.

We need to re-examine our priorities and remember that there is a human story behind everything we wear. The scenes of shoppers in the west squabbling and fighting over stuff they don’t need during annual sales, while a garment worker has to leave her child in a village to be cared for by someone else, show that things are out of balance.

I don’t know what the solution is, certainly the fashion companies need to take more responsibility for where they are sourcing their clothes. But we also need to think about what we buy and how much do we really need. Do we need 5 t-shirts at $2 each or can we manage with 1 $10 shirt?

If nothing else, this film will make you think about the consequences of your actions, and if enough people see it then perhaps real beneficial change will happen.

As the Director of ‘The True Cost’, Andrew Morgan, says at the end of the film: “ ….in the midst of all the challenges facing us today, for all the problems that feel bigger than us and beyond our control……… maybe we can start here, with clothing.”

The True Cost
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An Interview with Linda Ainouche, Writer/Director – Dreadlocks Story

Linda Ainouche

“If you put enough creativity, successfully utilize your hard working capabilities, even with a low budget, and starting from scratch regarding the film industry, you can still produce a piece of art.” – Linda Ainouche

 

After reviewing the documentary ‘Dreadlocks Story’, I was able to ask Writer/Director, Linda Ainouche a few questions about the film.

Linda is an Anthropologist and Ethnographer and now a documentary film-maker. Born in France, but currently residing in New York, Linda has lived and studied all over the world. ‘Dreadlocks Story’, a documentary examining the links between India’s Sadhus and Jamaica’s Rastas, is her first film.

Documentary Dude You trained as an ethnographer, what made you decide to make a film?

Linda Ainouche As an Anthropologist and avid traveller, I’ve always been passionate about cross­-cultural exploration and the opportunity to engage myself into something new.
What most excited me about film making is that it’s an intimate medium that allows me to give audience members the feeling of being connected into cultures they may not have known much about. There are a lot of misconceptions about certain outcast and indigenous communities. Consequently, I am truly convinced that documentary is the best medium to convey the complexities of human behaviors in an intimate way because the ethnographer and subjects can be put on an equal footing. I can access a ‘free’ style mix of improvisation, reality, subjectivity and technique that no other medium provides me. In other words, because documentary allows me to ‘shoot’ the reality as it is, that provides the unique opportunity to break down barriers and allows for a direct connection with people in their environment, I have decided to become a filmmaker.

DD Have you had any prior experience as a filmmaker?

LA Nothing of this calibre. This is my first feature.

DD How long did the film take to make?

LA In terms of filming, it took around a year to complete. In terms of editing, it took another year. And before filming, I have done the research but I had a relevant background on the topic, so it was not a very long development process. And along these stages, I have produced the whole thing!

DD What was a major learning you got from making the film?

LA If you put enough creativity, successfully utilize your hard working capabilities, even with a low budget, and starting from scratch regarding the film industry, you can still produce a piece of art.

DD I find it interesting that the film was filmed in 4 countries with four different crews. When you started was that the plan or did it just happen organically?

LA First of all, making a documentary means to play with flexibility and spontaneity, but yes I did plan to shoot in these four countries.

DD I like the idea of not having a voice-over instead letting the interviewees tell the story. What made you decide to take that route?

LA A voice­-over would have made the film feel distant, creating an “us versus them” that is ultimately counter­productive of my idea of what ethnography and documentary can transmit, although it is really challenging to tell a story with several people speaking in different languages.
 ‘Dreadlocks Story’ aims to shed light on the diverse multi­cultural influences that together created something beautiful, and a voice­-over would assert the perceived distance between Rastas and Sadhus and other cultures.

DD How difficult was it to get in front of the interviewees and have them agree to be interviewed on camera?

LA No difficulty, it is what I do best in different languages. I have a natural ability to speak with people and above all listen to what they have to say to me.
 As I observed and listened to them carefully, I always found a way to make them talk on topics that they could not have necessary even think of. Each of them had a different approach: singing, smoking, responding straight forward, laughing … This gives ‘Dreadlocks Story’ a richer and more personal spin on a history from the insider’s point of view.

DD Has making the film changed your views on the Rastas in any way?

LA I don’t understand this question! Or rather, anything you pay attention to in your life provides you a new way to expand your view of something as long as you are open-­minded!

DD Is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?

LA I wouldn’t do anything differently. I always embrace the process because it creates the product. I am not a person who lives in the past with regrets and to worry about the future either. Things happen in the present, at least this is my perception of living.

DD What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a documentary of their own?

LA Go ahead and enjoy it!

DD How can people get to see the film?

LA For now, the film can only be watched during our upcoming screenings, the lists of which you can see  on our website at www.dreadlockstory.com

DD What next for Linda Ainouche?

LA Many things, some documentary projects in mind but this is too early to talk of them. I will focus on promoting ‘Dreadlocks Story.’

DD Where can people find/follow you online?

LA Oh about me! Find me at www.ainouche.com 
 More information on the film can be found at www.dreadlockstory.com as well as our social media profiles which are all on our website.
 Some other activities of the company can be followed at www.lookatmyproductions.com