Where to Aim, When to Shoot

Film as a weapon in a time of war: Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival coverage.

Take Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. This superbly imagined film reworked Bollywood's song-and-dance routine into a tragicomic tale of a family wedding; it won top honors at the Venice Film Festival and a global audience. British-Indian director Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, about a second-generation-British Asian girl who's passionate about football, was a giant hit in the U.K. (It opened in the Twin Cities last week.) And Canadian-Indian director Deepa Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood, a spirited spoof of nonresident Indians and their unabashed love affair with Bollywood, played to packed theaters in Canada. (It screens at Oak Street Cinema on Saturday, April 5 at 9:30 p.m. as part of the Minneapolis/St. Paul festival.) Like Nair, Mehta reformulates song-and-dance into a joyous celebration of love and marriage. She pokes gentle fun at Bollywood conventions (subtitles remind the audience to bless the happy couple as they drive into the sunset in a cliché happy ending), but she also revels in its inherent optimism.

Nair, who has claimed to be "inspired by Bollywood's unabashed emotion, the outrageous dance numbers, the guts of its music, and its unbridled film vocabulary," worries that these elements will be "watered down" to suit "so-called international palates." Bollywood directors voice similar concerns. "I'm happy trying to satisfy my Indian audience alone," says Lagaan director Ashutosh Gowarikar. "After all, you can't plan for a film to cross over. You make the film you want to, and then follow it where it goes."

So while the pan-global Bollywood movie may still be far away, a dialogue between cultures has clearly begun. Ideas, as well as actors, writers, and technicians, are moving seamlessly between the East and the West. In May, Nair will begin shooting Vanity Fair in Ireland with Reese Witherspoon. Chadha's next film is a reworking of Pride and Prejudice set in Punjab and starring Bollywood's hottest leading lady, Ashwariya Rai. (Meanwhile, Rai has signed with the William Morris Agency, and rumors abound that she'll follow Halle Berry as the next "Bond girl.") Director Shekhar Kapur, whose first English-language film Elizabeth received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, is working on a film called Pani (Water), which will combine Indian actors and Los Angeles technicians for a look at the water shortage in Mumbai. And Mehta's leading man Rahul Khanna, who has enjoyed stints in Singapore and New York, has now returned to Mumbai to pursue a career in Bollywood, saying, "I'm very eager to work here."

Bollywood, Hollywood, anyone?

Anupama Chopra is the Mumbai-based film critic at India Today and the author of a British Film Institute study of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jeyenge.

 

On The Rebound

'Hoop Dreams' director Steve James takes another shot with 'Stevie'

By Rob Nelson

"The dirty secret of documentary filmmaking is that misfortune is what makes for a good film," says Steve James. He ought to know. James's Stevie--named for the immeasurably troubled southern Illinois man to whom James had been a Big Brother in the early '80s--is one of the most harrowing works of filmed nonfiction since the director's Hoop Dreams. In the course of Stevie's four-and-a-half-year shoot, the subject, Stevie Fielding, confessed to molesting his eight-year-old cousin--compelling the documentarian, in turn, to make a confession of his own.

"I was shocked and appalled by what happened," recalls the 48-year-old filmmaker. "And yet there's always that little voice in the back of your head saying, 'This is dramatic.' It happened on Hoop Dreams, too: When William [Gates] blew out his knee, I had that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I was also thinking, 'My God, was that a great scene?' I think if I ever give up this kind of work, it'll be for that reason: There are contradictions involved in wanting to make films that have a social purpose, and there are compromises you have to make in order to finish those films. And sometimes you don't want to have to make them."

There were times when James didn't want to have to make Stevie, which he started shooting in 1995. When Hoop Dreams' enormous success brought an offer from Disney later that year to direct a narrative film based on the life of Olympic track star Steve Prefontaine, James accepted gratefully. And no wonder: Prefontaine provided James with the opportunity to make some money (not even Hoop's $8 million gross gave the filmmaker a financial cushion), as well as the chance to put some distance between himself and the increasingly difficult matter of Stevie.

"I guess I had naively thought that things would be better for Stevie than they were," says James, who after Hoop Dreams still harbored feelings of guilt over having been out of touch with his unfortunate "little brother" for nearly a decade. (While James was endeavoring to launch a film career in Chicago, Fielding was arrested a dozen times.) "Prefontaine came as a convenient form of relief. But after I finished it, my thoughts kept turning to the [documentary] and to Stevie, and so I reconnected with him. Shortly after that, this crime was committed, and that brought me to another juncture where I had to decide again whether to continue. That's the $64,000 question in this film. I obviously did continue to make the film, but my reasons, while perfectly valid, are never completely satisfying. On some level, if I had called Stevie and said, 'Let's not do this film. I'm going to help you, but I'm not going to do a film,' that would have spoken better of me as a person--perhaps. Because I clearly had a dual interest here."

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