Written by Stephen Brophy | Posted by: Anonymous
Every independent filmmaker knows that, no matter how hard it is to get the money and resources together to shoot a movie, and no matter how hard it is to see a project through and beyond post-production, the job is still only half done at that point. Finding an audience still looms ahead. Even the most slipshod Hollywood production easily ends up on 3,000 screens on its first weekend, but a really independent filmmaker has a hard time showing her work to anyone other than immediate family, friends and backers.
An increasing number of festivals in North America allow personal films to be screened for adventurous people who are willing to go out of their way to find movies not necessarily cut to standard patterns. But the real dream is to get a commercial run in real theaters. The Shooting Gallery distribution company has come up with a way for that to happen, putting together a series of six films for screenings in selected commercial markets. In Boston, these films can be seen at the Nickelodeon Theatre.
The first film in the series was Eric Mendelsohn’s "Judy Berlin," followed by Scots actor Peter Mullan’s directorial debut, "Orphans." The third in the series, which is currently screening, is one of the most affecting. "Such a Long Journey" takes place in Bombay in the early 1970s, at a time when East Pakistan was becoming Bangladesh and the specter of war was in the air. The story centers on a middle-aged bank clerk named Gustad Noble, a Parsi in a land of Hindus, who spends his days and nights trying to balance the competing strands of his life.
Played by Roshan Seth, whose face you will recognize even if you don’t know his name, Gustad lives in an apartment block with his wife and three children, the oldest of whom has just been accepted into the India Institute of Technology. A crumbling wall separates his building from the busy street; too often, this wall is used as an outdoor toilet by passersby, and his neighbors complain more and more stridently about the smell. Still, they protest even louder when the municipal authorities announce plans to tear down the wall to widen the street.
Gustad still quietly mourns the disappearance of an old friend who went away years ago, and is surprised to get a letter from him out of the blue. Soon enough he is drawn into a plot to secretly deposit money into his bank, which he thinks is supposed to help the Bengali resistance fighting for the freedom of Bangladesh. Meanwhile, other friends and neighbors are getting into other kinds of difficulties, and his son is beginning to resist the plan to send him to IIT.
Director Sturla Gunnarsson expertly juggles all these competing plot elements, even throwing in some flashbacks to Gustad’s childhood and young adulthood, particularly to a time when he was hit by a car after kicking his oldest son out of its way. A sidewalk painter drawn into the plot provides most of the story’s explicit philosophizing, his point being that we get into the most trouble when we try to make things last permanently. Om Puri also plays a significant supporting role, a taxi driver who serves as go-between for Gustad and his long-lost friend.
On April 7, "Such a Long Journey" will be followed by an Irish documentary called "Southpaw." (Each film in the series gets a two-week run.) Director Liam McGrath focuses his camera on a young boxer, a boy named Francis Barrett who grew up in a trailer camp and managed to get sent to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 as Ireland’s amateur boxing champion. Barrett, who is alternately called Francie, Frankie, and Frank by his associates, is a scrapper, but also one of the nicest young men you are ever likely to meet in a sports documentary.
In America he would be referred to as "trailer trash" and treated with a fair amount of contempt, but in Ireland Francis’ kind of people are called "travelers" and despised even more than Gypsies in Eastern Europe. His family lives in an unincorporated section of Galway called Hillside, and the more tony neighbors have seen to it that their camp is not provided with such basics as electricity or telephone wiring. This bigotry carries over to affect the man who became Barrett’s first trainer.
This man, a barber named Chick, had been trying to start a boxing club for local youth for some time. When he decided to allow travelers to join, he found that the sites he rented for the clubs would inexplicably become unavailable. All this changed when Barrett was selected for the Olympic team, but the odor of hypocrisy hovers over all the officials who are suddenly smiling on this young man whom they had so recently disdained. Much comment from many sources, not all of it friendly, is aroused when Barrett is chosen to carry the Irish flag at the opening of the Olympics, but he himself sees it as a way to earn respect for himself as a traveler, a citizen of Galway, and a human being.
While the film gets off to a rousing start, documenting the enthusiasm as young Barrett leaves for Atlanta, Mullan does not set up the standard rags-to-riches scenario. Barrett doesn’t win all of his fights, and this draws viewers into the tension and excitement of the young man’s journey. As "Southpaw" brings us up to the recent past, Barrett has married and become a father, and is still trying to make his mark on the world as a boxer.
Both of these films show us parts of the world we might not otherwise see, and show us our similarities with other people while simultaneously respecting our differences. This is not something we get very often from Hollywood product. "Southpaw" will be followed on April 21 by Mike Hodges’ "Croupier," and the last film in the series, Shinobu Yaguchi’s Japanese crime comedy "Adrenaline Drive" will open in early May.
Check local listings for showtimes of 'Such a Long Journey' and 'Southpaw' at the Nickelodeon Theatre in Boston.