Saturday, October 02, 2010

VIFF 2: Pink Saris and The Arrivals (Les Arrivants)

Photo from VIFF website
I felt like I was just dumped into rural India when the film started Thursday.  I remember (as opposed to what actually happened first) a woman yelling, and there's another, young woman who's boyfriend is in jail because he abandoned her after she became pregnant.  It seemed that was the reason he was in jail anyway. The movie goes on like this as the very outspoken Sampat Pal takes no crap from anyone as she fights for a series of young women who seek her out.  These highly confrontational scenes are interspersed with views of cityscapes or rural landscapes that allow us catch our breath.  Most of the problems stem from untouchable class women being involved with men of higher castes.

Just as I was starting to think of Sampat Pal as a rather pushy and righteous woman, on screen her companion accuses her being arrogant and overly concerned about publicity. (This companion is a higher caste man, though she never divorced the husband her parents married her off to when she was about 12.)

[Video from Women Making Movies at Youtube.]

When I left the theater I started thinking - how can you tell a story like this?  India is too big, there is so much the rest of the world doesn't know that needs to be filled in.  Why not do what Kim Longinotto, the director, did?  Just jump in almost ethnographically and let the viewer sample first hand, Sampat Pal at work?  

There is a story there - Indian woman, married out as a child and abused by her in-laws, grows up and works to protect other girls/young women facing the same situation.  That story tells itself.   Being there as she fights for justice is probably better than an 'even-handed' movie that might interview various people who have had dealings with Sampat Pal.  You just fall right into the middle of things that would lead any reasonably intelligent person to want to know a lot more. 

This is a woman with no real formal education who  says, "This is unjust and I'm going to do what I can to help some of the victims."  She's flawed, but no more than any of the rest of us.  What makes her stand out is that she isn't willing to put up with the injustice she sees around her.  

The movie should make everyone look at themselves and ask, "What suffering around me can I alleviate?" 

You can listen to a CBC interview with Pink Saris director Kim Longinotto here.  Scroll down to the Pink Sari segment.

This is an issue affecting women of all classes in India.  The book Ancient Promises by Jaishree Misra  tells the story of an educated middle class New Dehli girl's marriage to a man from her family's home state in Kerala which tells a similar story.  

In the afternoon we saw the French movie, The Arrivals.  It takes place in the Paris office that processes immigrants seeking asylum.  It follows an Ethiopian couple, an Eritrean woman, a Mongolian couple, a Sri Lankan family, and the French officials that cope with their problems and the limits of the bureaucracy they work for.  This film is not as raw as Pink Saris and we see the social workers' perspectives too. 
photo from VIFF website

There's so much mindless debate about immigration in the US and Europe today that seeing real people caught up in the red tape surely would help remind people that these are human beings, usually fleeing from difficult if not dangerous situations, trying to have a better life - like most people who now live in the US.  

These aren't necessarily easy movies to watch - though they aren't dry and certainly are as absorbing to watch as most reality shows.  If people watched just one movie of this type for every ten Hollywood films or two hours of video games they pay, we all be a much more informed world.  I'm not saying these films tell the whole stories - they couldn't.  But watching films like these, rich in detail that we normally don't see, on a regular basis will raise questions in people's minds and help replace some of the ignorance based prejudices we all have about things we know so little about.  

[Video from HAPPINESSDISTRI. The copy at the festival had English subtitles.]

NOTE:  The Vancouver International Film Festival has a great grid of all the movies by date, time, and place with links to more info about the movies.  I found it somehow, but can't find it again from the main website.  It's probably right there and easy to find, but if anyone else has trouble finding it, it's here.

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