The power of cinema, especially International cinema, is that you get the opportunity to live in someone else's shoes for a couple of hours from half way across the world. In the case of the 2008 Tamil film, Kanchivaram, we get to experience the life of a silk weaver in Kanchivaram, who cannot afford the saris he makes. The film is set in 1948 and is told mostly in flashbacks of a man's journey to attempt to keep a promise to his daughter against impossible odds.
It is an unforgettable and heartbreaking film, but beautifully told. I invite you to watch the full movie provided above which I watched at the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. Let me know what you think.
This article was originally written on March 18, 2007.
Yesterday, I had a fabulous opportunity to get my first look at a couple of films being shown as a part of the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival. My friend, Geneva took me along with her to Berkeley since she was doing a film review of Made In Korea: One Way Ticket Seoul-Amsterdam. The documentary starts out as a filmmaker's attempt to reunite with the eight other Korean adoptees who flew into the Netherlands in 1980 as babies. He finds one of those adoptees, who ends up becoming his girlfriend. Her story of reuniting with her birthmother in Korea, stirs up curiosity in him, where there was none before.
To In-Soo Radstake, he was just a typical Dutchman who really didn't think of himself as Korean. With the support of his girlfriend, he embarks on visits to Korea that really open up his feelings regarding being adopted and cultural identity. This was a very well done documentary. Most adoption-related documentaries are from the view of female adoptees who have already embraced the whole search for one's roots. It was refreshing to see a male adoptee speak up from a more skeptical and pragmatic point-of-view. It was also refreshing to see a male adoptee be able to show his more emotional moments during his search that he shares with his girlfriend, who is clearly his emotional support.
As an adopted person, I felt for him when he hit "the wall of shame" in regards to his own information about the facts surrounding his birth. He declares without a hint of doubt that the information contained in the orphanage's file is his own information. Without his own birth occuring that file would never exist. The film shows that in order to get simple information about oneself, adopted persons have to get creative and trick people into releasing information. When official channels fail to locate his birth mother, he quite reluctantly goes on reunion shows he detests. It reminded me of the time before the Internet adoption search community evolved where it seemed the only way to search was to go on daytime talkshow reunion episodes. Part of what turned me off on the concept of searching is that I also detested such shows and felt if that is the only way to search it isn't worth it. I had to wait until there were more discreet ways to search.
After the screening, Geneva and I had the opportunity to meet with the In-Soo and his girlfriend, Ungila. It turns out that Insoo didn't really want to turn the camera on himself, but his producer thought it would be more compelling if it centered on his point-of-view as an adopted person. In-Soo admits now that the producer was right. In the film, there are brief profiles on a couple more of the adoptees he found that had mixed experiences when they went to Korea and found their birth family. This seemed to serve to temper his expectations are raised somewhat by Ungila's experiences.
When asked about how he feels now on the completion of the film and showing it in regards to feeling he is Dutch or Korean, he says he definately feels Korean. The film has brought out a lot of Koreans, particularly adopted Koreans. It seemed to me that the language barrier and being from a more progressive country while being confronted with a more closed Korean society does present challenges in feeling Korean.
I talked to Ungila and it turns out that it was her Dutch mother who asked her at 14 if she could search for her because if she waited until later it might be more difficult to find. In the film, Ungila's mother is clearly deep in guilt over not being able to raise who she feels is her daughter. She says through an interpretor that she feels always a sinner and doesn't see the use of digging up the past. I learned after the film that it was her birthfather's family who gave her up after a divorce without telling the mother until Ungila was in Holland. In Korea, when couples divorce, custody goes to the father. Ungila's Dutch parents and her birth mother stay in touch despite not speaking each other's language. They call each other, greet each other in each others language, giggle, and hang up.
Originally written on May 17, 2009
Going through the San Francisco International Film Festival catalog is a daunting task when you have to choose only two films. Nomad's Land or Sur les Trace de Nicolas Bouvier (In the Footsteps of Nicolas Bouvier) stood out as one of the films that stood out to me with its evocative quote from author Nicolas Bouvier, "One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you."
This beautiful documentary is in first person as Swiss filmmaker Gaël Métroz goes alone without a camera crew to capture the danger and beauty of landscapes and people on his journey. His goal is to trace the footsteps of the author of "The Way of the World" by Nicolas Bouvier. Bouvier was another Swiss man who traveled in a Fiat Topolino from Geneva, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, and over to Japan in the Fifties.
As Métroz traces Bouvier's trip to Iranian and Pakistan cities it is clear that much of the charm and romance recounted in Bovier's book have morphed into a violent locales unwelcoming to Métroz. Behind a gauzy curtain up in his hotel room Gaël hears endless gunshots and waits for the next jeep out.
By taking the opportunity to follow the Nomads out, Métroz veers off the path of Bouvier letting the trip take him rather than taking a trip. He takes many leaps of faith in the generosity and hospitality of the regions many tribes of nomads.
The first person point of view is extremely powerful and has the effect of immersing you in the highs and lows of his journey. You feel the exhaustion, elation, sense of awe of the enormous landscapes, and the heart-stopping remoteness.
I felt sadness at times when he would capture places like an Iranian marketplace that retains the exotic beauty, but where women are conspicuously absent. A young European treads lightly through these cities, how could I, an American Woman, ever hope to follow his footsteps? So, I am grateful that he makes this trip and captures the beauty as well as the precarious nature of the modern Middle East. In the same breath, I despair that much of the planet's exquisiteness remain elusive to me because I am a woman. As a mother of a son, I hope that my son has the opportunity when he is older to embark on such a journey even though worry would be my companion.
This film works on so many levels. Technically the photography captured the colors and the features of the locals and its people with incredible sharpness and intimacy. It is possible to see and hear, but you almost could feel, taste, and smell through his lens. Competing with the incredible visuals was the poetry of Métroz's narration and Bouvier's words. I wished that I could understand French, so my eyes would not have to choose whether to watch the action on screen or read the subtitles.
Nomad's Land is also a meditation on the nature and philosophy of travel. It retains the nostalgic notion of travel where the journey tells you when it will end, instead of having an itinerary of what you will see determined by what little time we get off from work. Instead of rushing through a destination so one can say they climbed the Eiffel Tower or walked the Great Wall of China, travel can be a slow, patient surrender to the part of the world unfamiliar to you. In a time where we have Google Earth and can see almost every inch of the planet, there are opportunities to be kindred to explorers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but without the Western ethnocentric point of view of the quaintness of natives. One can explore untouched areas of the world and view its inhabitants as wise teachers, protectors, and spirit guides on your journey. It is a journey that respects the rhythms and traditions of others who follow the rhythms of the earth.
Métroz embraced and was embraced back by a part of the world where they are supposed to hate freedom. What you learn from Métroz's lens is that these people are happiest when they are free to roam away from the cities and into open landscapes and crevices of hills. The urbanized and modern parts of that world drive some to smoke hash, and feel the great anxieties in cities that imprison. It is violent and breeds extremism. It is when you are with the nomads and visit the tribes that the extremism softens, the people blossom into generous people at peace enough not only allow a westerner in their midst, but a westerner with a camera.
Métroz says, "These temptations not to return too often plagued me, convincing me to make a film which, as the writings of Nicolas Bouvier, especially recalls that "travel is not an innocent activity… it is an experience of which one never heals." When one comes back, one is never the same."
As Métroz allowed his journey to change him, the film has the ability to change you. According to this film's website, this film will be pressed to DVD. I am hoping to add it to our collection of films and recommend that you do too. The film is also a great inspiration to read "The Way of the World" by Nicolas Bouvier.