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The Cinema Travellers

Shirley Abraham and Amit MadheshiyaIndia96 minutes2016PGColourHindi Marathi

This lyrical documentary chronicles the vanishing tradition of the mobile "tent cinemas" that bring films to far-flung towns and villages across India.

More than 120 years after its birth, cinema retains its power to inspire awe in spectators. Sadly, however, one of the world's most wondrous film-exhibition models is nearing extinction. India's travelling tent cinemas have been delivering movies to distant villages for seven decades, but the projectors are collapsing, celluloid is becoming a rarity, and patrons are being lured away by the marvels of television and digital devices. This beautiful new documentary, by filmmakers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, explores the incredible legacy of tent cinemas even as its most stalwart purveyors ride into the sunset.

The Cinema Travellers begins with eager crowds bustling around the colourful carnival tent at whose entrance a barker promises "movies to touch your soul." Inside that tent, resourceful exhibitors scramble to set up, using mud packs to steady their aging equipment. Once the movie begins, however, all that busyness gives way to the magic on screen. Madheshiya, who's an accomplished photographer, captures the spectators' rapt faces in poignant still images.

Abraham and Madheshiya follow the exhibitors as they traverse the state of Maharashtra in rust-covered trucks, struggling to keep their operation running in the face of rain-outs, and resisting the temptation to adopt new technologies that may not prove sustainable in territories lacking reliable internet. Along the way, we're introduced to the beguiling Prakash, a crackerjack repairman and inventor: he invites Abraham and Madheshiya to his workshop, where he proudly displays his self-oiling projector. It is an ingenious innovation — no matter that it's nearly obsolete.

Lyrically edited and gorgeously shot, The Cinema Travellers is an affectionate elegy for a disappearing trade that still brings joy to so many.

THOM POWERS

Films About FilmSouth AsiaHistoryScience + TechnologyRelationshipsDocumentaryFemale Director