Thursday, January 29, 2009

Amal: New on DVD

My friend Larry in Edmonton points out this film. And of course, Videomatica has it - I've added it to my queue.

Mehta's gem Amal deserves wider audience
By BRUCE KIRKLAND, Edmonton Sun, January 29, 2009

There is a small-scale, intimate, Indo-Canadian film new to DVD stores this month.

It is called Amal.

This poignant film has often been overlooked and underappreciated in festivals, in theatres and in awards (although there have been accolades at filmfests as far flung as Texas, California and Germany). This story is a personal plea for wider recognition.

I passionately believe in Amal and respect what Toronto filmmaker Richie Mehta and his collaborators have wrought.

Amal, a feature film inspired by Mehta's own 18-minute short by the same name, is the fable-like saga of a New Delhi auto-rickshaw driver who redefines the nature of wealth. Is it monetary or buried deep within the soul?

In its own way, Amal has as much to say about the global human condition as British director Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which just generated an astounding 10 Oscar nominations, including as best picture.

I recommend making room for both Amal and Slumdog in your viewing schedule, as fascinating companion pieces inspired by the same ancient culture.

And as films which embody universal themes with significance beyond their roots.

As it comes to DVD from Seville Pictures, Amal is both a labour of love from Mehta, and a painful memory.

Like others involved in the shoot in India, including his lead actor Rupinder Nagra, Mehta became deathly ill on location in New Delhi. Emotionally, he was torn by the traumas of making an independent film and struggling with financing, logistics, distribution nightmares and the other slings and arrows of outrageous practices in the film industry.

So I simply ask him, "Why ... why bother?"

"You know," Mehta says, "I asked myself that question every day in the shoot and every day in the post-production, because it wasn't fun."

Mehta had to find solace later. As he did when a jury member at a festival in Germany wrote in her summary for an award that Amal had just won: "The film has forced me to re-examine my notions of wealth and poverty."

Mehta is still astonished by the clarity of that sentence.

"For a jury member to say that! It is the exact, verbatim, intended effect of our film. Then that's it. We have connected with another human being that we didn't know when we made the film. That's it, that's what you want to do.

"It's the same thing you want to do if you stand on top of a mountain and screamed. But would people listen to you? You would be considered a crazy person to do it. But you can do it in a film."

The DVD now represents the end game of the process. It is an artifact. The film itself is presented in a beautiful widescreen-only transfer.

Extras include two commentaries, one a solo effort from Mehta, the other a collaboration between Nagra and producers Stephen Bray and David Miller.

The original Amal short is here. So is a 25-minute making-of documentary that shows, in detail, what the filmmakers were up against. How they really were crazy people to try to do this film this way. How there were joyous moments, too.

"But I felt so drained and so kind of empty," Mehta says of making his first feature.

"I felt that I cut off a piece of myself and threw it into the fire on that movie. And I was less for it and I was hoping that the movie was more for it."

He says one of his favourite inspirational quotes is an observation someone once made of Judy Garland: "Every time she sang, she died a little." Mehta thinks that all filmmakers go through that when working on a project that comes from the heart, especially when there is little outside support for the film.

"With the DVD," he says of the final result, "it is not about creating a legacy for yourself. This is the work you've done and you take pride in the work you've done."

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