(Recommended by SI reader Boopalanj)
Preoccupied as Indian film-makers are with regurgitating trash, the documentary as an art form is virtually absent in Bollywood or any of its smaller regional siblings.
That’s odd when you know the cornucopia of material available to Indian film-makers.
Given that the blighted land is rife with corruption, rampant cruelty, exploitation and injustice of every form, the wealth of material for documentary film-makers can only be described as embarras de richesses.
But few Indian film-makers have dared to pick up the documentary gauntlet. Most likely, the reasons are financial and fear.
Money must be very hard to come by for making decent documentaries given the national fixation with the song-and-dance crap shows featuring skimpily-clad starlets.
Second, beneath the veneer of participatory democracy, India is hostile to exposes of any kind.
Whether it’s the Congress or the BJP, they are merely wolves in different colors. Look at how the BJP crushed Tehelka for daring to expose corruption in the highest echelons of India’s defense ministry.
Even in the U.S., documentaries are largely step-children of the film business. Studios and film-makers here are obsessed with big movies, where the costs are often north of $200 million. No kidding. Presumably, the payoffs are higher too (as are the risks of mega losses).
With the exception of Michael Moore and perhaps a handful of others, documentary film makers in the U.S. have mostly toiled and languished in obscurity.
Tired as we are at the endless run of crappy Bollywood and Kollywood films, we jumped at the opportunity when a SI reader boopalanj suggested we watch the 2002 French documentary Être et avoir (To Be and To Have).
This documentary is available at Netflix both on DVD and Instant Play via streaming with a Roku, TiVo or Xbox. We are streaming the film (with English subtitles) via Roku.
Directed by Nicolas Philibert, the 1 hour-40-minute documentary is a look at the overcrowded school system in France denying students the prospect of a solid education.
Here’s an excerpt from the short profile on Netflix:
This documentary by Nicolas Philibert visits a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saint-Étienne-sur-Usson, where Georges Lopez teaches his 13 students, ranging in age between 3 and 10, the old-fashioned way … with effort, attention and encouragement.
We just clicked on our Roku remote and watched a couple of minutes of this film that starts off with a snow-storm in a rural setting.
Three people are trying to corral a herd of cows and slowly the camera moves to a small school-room where we espy two small turtles on the floor.
We’ll update this post after finishing the film.
At the outset, let’s clear up one misconception.
There’s little connection between this documentary and Taare Zameen Par other than that both focus on children.
That said, we must tell you bluntly that To Be and To Have is not a documentary that had us going ‘Wow’ at any point.
But it’s not a bad work either. Certainly breaks the monotony of watching commercial films.
The documentary follows students of different ages studying together in a single classroom at a primary school in rural Saint-Êtienne-sur-Usson (in Central France).
The school has just one teacher, George Lopez, whose late father originally came from Spain and settled in France.
Lopez is a patient teacher (was it because of the cameras?) as he handles children of different ages with different issues.
The young kids are natural despite the presence of the camera. Perhaps, they had gotten used to it.
What bothered us about To Be and To Have was that it did not seem to address any overarching theme and just looked at daily activities in the classroom over a period of about an year.