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Eleven new cinematic voices

Slug: The Hindu@Mami

Photocredits: by special arrangement

Film festivals often serve as launch pads for budding storytellers who are in the midst of finding their unique voice and looking to truthfully represent their worldview. This is the point where their work is largely unfettered from audience expectations. Original ideas abound. There is a reflection of dogged pursuit; movie-making at its purest. Mining film festivals for such hidden talent can be rewarding. The biggest triumph of festivals is the way in which audiences discover a director and follow her/his trajectory and the director in turn finds her/his audiences. This year, like every year, Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star is celebrating this synergy with over 50 feature-length directorial debuts, 16 of which are by women directors. The international competition section is, in fact, open only to directorial debuts.

Deepti DCunha, Programmer, Indian Programme, believes that debut films are passionate films with very personal points of view. She adds, “MAMI has always featured great debuts. Most debuts are indie films. The debut directors hail from big cities to small towns, and reflect varied issues. Most are young and emanate a dynamic energy. They really take the medium forward and push the boundaries.”

The opening film, Konkana Sensharma’s Death in the Gunj, the disarmingly funny and moving Swiss Army Man by the Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert), and Studio Ghibli’s wordless animated masterwork, The Red Turtle, by Michaël Dudok de Wit may be amongst the most coveted debut feature films this year. But here is a list of other films by debutant directors that can take you on a contemplative journey.

Old Stone/ Lao Shi

Director: Johnny Ma

Fiction | Section: World Cinema

Country: China | Language/s: Mandarin | Time: 80 mins

Canadian-Chinese director Johnny Ma bares the exasperating red tape and unsound logic of China’s legal setup with regard to criminal responsibility and insurance policies. Screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, Old Stone is the story of a taxi driver who is responsible for an accident, but decides to do the conscientious thing and take the victim to the hospital. It unravels the moral crisis and the descent into criminality of a scrupulous man.


Director: Ana Cristina Barragán

Fiction | Section: International Competition

Country: Ecuador | Language/s: Spanish | Time: 96 mins

Alba marks a powerful debut from Ecuador considering the fact that till the beginning of this century, the country only made one film per year. An unsentimental coming-of-age film, it follows the travails of an immensely shy 11-year-old. When her indisposed mother is hospitalised, Alba is forced to move in with her father, whom she has not seen since the age of three. Both are shy and lonely, but are unable to find a way to connect. It is a story of lonely characters that barely talk and live surrounded by noise. The film has won honours at the Lion Films Award, Rotterdam, the FIPRESCI award in Toulouse, Best Debut Film in Cologne, and the Audience Award in Tübingen.

Under the Shadow

Director: Babak Anvari

Fiction | Section: After Dark

Country: Jordan, Qatar, UK | Language/s: Farsi | Time: 83 mins

This haunted-house tale is not only an account of Iran’s post-revolution sexism but also a relentless feminist horror. Set in 1988 Tehran during the decade-long Iran-Iraq war, it spins a riveting tale around Shideh, who has to single-handedly take care of her young daughter, when her husband is summoned to battle. The house is hit by a missile and a neighbour suggests that missile carries spiteful Middle-Eastern spirits. It delves into the psychology of living in a war zone with the tool of horror as a genre. Iranian-born writer-director Anvari premiered the film in the Sundance Film Festival and sold the streaming rights to Netflix. Due to the history of cinematic censorship, Anvari couldn’t have made the film in Iran. This Farsi-language film has been selected as an official Oscar Foreign Language submission by the United Kingdom.

Diamond Island

Director: Davy Chou

Fiction | Section: International Competition

Country: Cambodia, France | Language/s: Khmer | Time: 101 mins

Davy Chou’s feature length documentary Golden Slumbers (2011) was selected by the Berlinale Forum, the Busan International Film Festival, and more than 40 other international festivals. It revolved around the birth of Cambodian cinema in the 1960s, and its destruction by the Khmer Rouge dictatorship. Featuring a cast of non-professional actors, Diamond Island is an account of Bora, who flees the poverty of his village for a better life in Phnom Penh. He takes up the gruelling job of a construction worker for the luxury apartment building project named ‘Diamond Island’ intended for a new class of prosperous urbanites, and runs into his estranged older brother. Though critics have faulted its narrative structure, it functions well as a coming-of-age tale and a social portrait of contemporary Cambodia.

Sand Storm

Director: Elite Zexer

Fiction | Section: International Competition

Country: Israel | Language/s: Arabic | Time: 88 mins

It is little wonder that Sand Storm is a mother-daughter film. Director Elite Zexer’s mother, a stills photographer asked Zexer to join her when she began photographing Bedouin women from various villages in the Israeli Negev desert. This adventure led to encounters with incredible women and spurred years of writing, which culminated in Sand Storm. The film portrays turbulent interpersonal relationships. Set in Southern Israel, when Jamila is grappling with her inner unrest as she prepares to host the marriage of her husband to a younger bride, she learns of her daughter’s clandestine relationship with a boy at school. Sand Storm deals with the struggle for liberation against the tyranny of tradition and oppression of women by women within a patriarchal structure. Critics have lauded Zexer for accurately capturing the cultural specifics and the texture of everyday life in a Bedouin village.

My Life as a Courgette/ Ma vie de Courgette

Director: Claude Barras

Fiction | Section: Half Ticket Collection

Country: France, Switzerland | Language/s: French | Time: 66 mins

Adapted from Gilles Paris’s novel Autobiography of a Courgette by Céline Sciamma (Girlhood), this French-language stop-motion film was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Audience Award and the Cristal for Best Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and was selected as the Swiss entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. Set in an orphanage, it tells the bittersweet story of a nine-year-old boy who accidentally causes the death of his alcoholic mother. He insists on being called courgette (zucchini) since it is one of the few things that his mother bequeaths to him. Reminiscent of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, the foster home is depicted as a place of solace and rejuvenation, juxtaposed against the abusive outer world. Barras’s feat lies in the fact that he evokes empathy for characters that look like ping-pong balls. Having directed several award-winning short films like The Genie in a Ravioli Can, Claude Barras is recognised for stories that are a blend of realism, fantasy, humour and poetry.


Director: Rohit Mittal

Fiction | Section: India Gold

Country: India | Language/s: Hindi | Time: 97 mins

The trailer opens with a man introducing himself as Narayan, and admitting that he has committed nine murders. Shot on the streets of Mumbai in 14 days, the guerilla-style camerawork and the caustic social commentary of this mockumentary are its highpoints. Autohead was the only Indian film selected to be screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival 2016. The HKIFF website described it as “Man Bites Dog meets Taxi Driver on the streets of Mumbai”. In a meta move, characteristic of the mockumentary genre, Mittal and his crew play the filmmakers, i.e. themselves, who have set out to capture a migrant autorickshaw driver’s life as he zips across town. The film attempts to explore the workings of a destructive mind riddled with angst, sexual frustration and paranoia.


Director: Ralitza Petrova

Fiction | Section: International Competition

Country: Bulgaria, Denmark, France | Language/s: Bulgarian | Time: 99 mins

Featuring a cast of non-actors, Godless was shot in the province of Vratsa, one of the poorest regions of northwestern Bulgaria. A thriller with shades of dreary urban realism, in which a young and unscrupulous physiotherapist addicted to morphine struggles to make ends meet in an economically depressed mountain town in post-Communist Bulgaria. She enjoys a friendship with one of her elderly patients, but soon learns that there’s a price to pay for this newfound empathy. Petrova’s short films have won praise at film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto.

Barakah meets Barakah

Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh

Fiction | Section: World Cinema

Country: Saudi Arabia | Language/s: Arabic | Time: 88 mins

Set in a world where meeting in public unchaperoned is outlawed and physical contact is forbidden, Barakah meets Barakah is a distinctively Saudi Arabian love story. Barakah, a Jeddah municipal law enforcement officer, is smitten by an Instagram star from a wealthy family. They both struggle to strike a conversation. Modernity clashes with convention in hilariously telling ways. The acerbic humour can be experienced right at the outset. The film opens with a title card: “The pixelization you will experience during this film is totally normal. It is not a commentary on censorship. We repeat, it is not a commentary on censorship”. Devoid of fancy shots, the film was shot entirely in Jeddah, utilising real locations and streets with minimal production design. This satirical comedy is Saudi Arabia’s foreign language Oscar submission.

Hounds of love

Director: Ben Young

Fiction | Section: International Competition

Country: Australia | Language/s: English |Time: 108 mins

Not for the faint-hearted, Hounds of Love follows a sadistic couple’s abduction of a teenager. The abductee realises that the only way she can escape is by causing them to turn against one another. It traverses the macabre territory of ‘torture porn’. Deeply fascinated by the psychology of co-dependent relationships, in this debut feature, Ben Young draws inspiration from the case of the infamous serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke and another couple who kidnapped and maimed four young Perth women in the 1980s. It premiered in the Venice Days Section of the Venice Film Festival. Ben Young began his career as a screen actor at the age of 12. His short films have won awards at numerous festivals.

Donald Cried

Director: Kris Avedisian

Fiction | Section: World Cinema

Country: USA | Language/s: English | Time: 85 mins

Fifteen years after Peter leaves working class Warwick for the greener pastures of Wall Street, he is forced to return due to his grandmother’s death. When he loses his wallet on his way home, he calls upon his neighbour and estranged friend Donald Treebeck. The decision turns out to be fateful. He exploits Peter’s desperate situation and compels him to spend the day with him. Donald has not evolved since the teenage heydays. Donald Cried is based on a short focused on the awkward dynamic of childhood friends. It delves into the dread of confronting people from our past and their arrested development. Though the feature is heartbreaking, you will find yourself laughing out of discomfort. Donald Cried premiered at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival.