The backdrop of a serene lake ringed with mountains begs you to draw up a chair by the shore and contemplate the universe. It can also become a great venue for a film festival that gives you another way of seeing, and allows you to have unending conversations with the participants, to feast on fine films and animated debate. And if the films happen to be documentaries, the debates are as diverse and challenging and provocative as the reels that set them off.
A couple of weeks ago, at the Lake Resort in Naukuchiyatal for the second DOK Leipzig Lake Festival, I saw some truly outstanding documentaries. One of those was Forget Me Not, from Germany; it shows how a debilitating illness can impact a long-married couple. A wife has Alzheimer’s, and a husband takes care of her, negotiating the complex feelings and emotions of the permanent caregiver. It reminded me very strongly of the top Cannes winner, Amour, Michael Haneke’s harrowing feature film on the same subject.
There were several points in Forget Me Not where I forgot that I was watching a documentary, a form of cinema that so many of us think of as dry and boring; evangelical and preachy, or political and polemical and instructional. There were others as well — Documentarian, from Lativia, is an astutely observed connection between an old woman who is the subject, and the much younger filmmaker. When the film is over, you will go away, won’t you, she asks. The question haunts you. And the marvellous Bulgarian Tzventaka, which innovatively re-creates the life of a woman in a manner that will stay with its viewers long after the credit roll ceases.
A new sensibility has made its way to India where the documentaries now being made are breaking free of the old-style barriers of differentiating the “real” and “not-real”. Not just confined to dealing with “issues” or “problems”, these films look at people and personalities and subjects in wildly and satisfyingly varying genres, styles and form.
You can see the boundaries being pushed in the work of some Indian documentary filmmakers. Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s When Hari Got Married is quirky and insightful, and uses a Dharamsala taxi driver’s marriage to a girl he has never met to examine the intersection of tradition and modernity. Paromita Vohra’s Partners In Crime is a delightful exploration of the layers between copyright and creative “lifting”: which came first, Munni badnaam hui, or Launda badnaam hua? Shabnam Virmani’s Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein looks at the connections between Kabir’s dohas and the various cults that have sprung up around the mystic-poet. Q’s Love In India goes for broke looking for love and passion amongst Indians. Amalan Dutta’s BOM, One Day Of Democracy leads us into Malana, a forgotten village in the Himachal hills, and how it is coming to terms with the continued…