Cannes 2016: 'The Cinema Travelers' Doc Profiles a Passion for 35mm
by Alex Billington
May 18, 2016
With the conversion to digital cinema nearly complete worldwide, will 35mm still live on somewhere? This documentary is proof that yes, a love for film and 35mm projection will live on forever, even in the most remote places in the world where it's hard to even get electricity. The Cinema Travelers is a documentary made by directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya and it profiles a traveling cinema in India, which shows up in desolate places of the country with very basic projection rigs to show classic films to swarms of people. It is absolutely wonderful to discover, capturing so spectacularly the joy and wonder that movies bring to people of all ages. It evokes the same emotions as Cinema Paradiso, but this is all real life.
I genuinely adore this documentary and it's a must see for anyone/everyone who loves 35mm and the power of cinema. Which is hopefully everyone reading this. The footage in the first few opening scenes where it shows them setting up and hosting a screening is jaw-dropping. I couldn't believe the shots they were getting, they are truly timeless, and I couldn't believe that these kind of screenings were actually happening in India. The rest of the film is just as magical, and just as exciting, as they also profile a veteran projector repairman who builds his own "greatest 35mm projector ever made". He has worked on so many of them that he decides to build one himself, though you have to see the doc for yourself to see what happens with it.
The first half of The Cinema Travelers is a bit better than the second half, as the introduction to all of this is much more captivating than the story of digital eventually taking over. However, what I was impressed by was the way the documentary naturally progresses to the digital takeover - and the fact that even in India in these places where 35mm has ruled for so long, digital is slowly taking over. It's inevitable. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a love for 35mm and for cinema and that doesn't mean they can't still draw a crowd. Sure, it's sad and reminds me of the other docs like Side-by-Side, but it's all packaged in such an extremely gorgeous package. This is a documentary I can watch and rewatch and never get tired of, it's so wonderful.
I've always had an immense love for movie theaters and the communal experience. One of my favorite parts of this documentary is when the film finally starts, instead of showing actual footage of people watching, they switch over to these amazing photographs. You get to see the joy captured on the faces of these people watching these films. And you get to spend just a second or two with them, wondering what it would be like if you were sitting there next to them. It's these kind of moments that I live for anyway, seeking out in my own life as a movie lover. And they captured that experience so exquisitely in this, I can't stop raving about it. Everyone else who loves the cinematic experience as much as I do needs to revel in the glory of this doc.
Alex's Cannes 2016 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing