The River
The RiverPart of the festival's "Rediscovered and Restored" series, "The River" is based on the eponymous novel by young-adult writer Rumer Godden, whose work has sadly not remained popular into the 21st century. The autobiographical story is narrated by Harriet, the oldest of five (soon to be six) children of an English couple living in colonial India. The family lives a life between their proper English customs and what Harriet calls "the even tenor of Bengal." "The River" is the story of her first love and foray into adolescence alongside the ebbs and flows of the Ganges River. Harriet, a fledgling poet, is obsessed with the river, watching all the different kinds of people who interact with the body of water. 
 
The remastering of the film (made in 1951) makes "The River"'s colors brighter and more lustrous without distracting from the original authenticity. Even when the principal actors veer into melodrama, they are balanced out by the breathtaking scenery. The India that Harriet sees is a whirling mix of bazaars, kites, and snake-charmers, women in saris applying their makeup and men carrying bales of jute on their heads. 

The movie opens with the family and their English diaspora friends celebrating Duwali, the Hindu festival of lights that honors the goddess Kali. The source material and the screenplay (co-written by Godden and Renoir) deserve credit for letting their characters show a genuine love for India. The country is portrayed as diverse and beautiful without a note of condescension. All of the English characters speak at least a smattering of Bengali, and it's clear that they have no desire to leave. The plot of the film may not have aged well, but the colors and textures of India are timeless. -- By Lilit Marcus

Sound of the Soul
In Sufi Islam, the fountain represents purity of the heart. It is so essential; many Muslims have the structures as the centerpiece of their homes. And so it was from the repetitive sound of the flowing water that Sufis learned to use music as a tool to open the heart. The film "Sound of the Soul," embraces this concept by documenting the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, where, among the fountains, music is celebrated as a way to connect to God.
 
Yet, sacred music is not the same across the board. Some groups were rowdy with plenty of hallelujahs, hand-clapping and booming tubas, while others were reserved with crystal clear notes that lingered on the air before the next one rolled off the tongue. The filmmakers say the film was created to serve as a catalyst for a dialogue to take place between people and leaders of different faiths. And it is no coincidence the festival takes place in Fez, Morocco--it's a place many people say epitomize how religions can live together in peace.
 
It is that sense of respect that the film aims to share with the world. The director, Stephen Olsson, created the documentary from footage taken in 2002 and 2004. The film profiles Jewish, Christian, and Islamic groups, hailing from places like Afghanistan, Algeria, England, France, Ghana, Ireland, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Russia, Turkey, and the U.S. This film was a well-needed reminder that religion and spirituality cannot be divorced from the human experience and can have a positive impact. There was tremendous power in watching a Muslim woman cloaked in a hijab listen to an Algerian Jewish woman sing Andalusian tunes.
 
On the other hand, it was surprising that there was no representation of Buddhist or Hindu music.
 
Part of the film's message was too, "Hey, look we're not all that different." It is a state of insecurity. Difference is good. Without it, there wouldn't be a challenge to be grounded in our faiths. It is within the unknown that faith is nurtured and fed until we are strong enough to stand on our own in the midst of other faiths and still be secure in our beliefs.
The narrator continues, "Music has no politics, no boundaries, no religion. It is the essence of life; it is the sound of the soul, the sound of love and compassion."
 
Yet, remembering what unifies us is important, precisely because it shouts to us that we are one human race. And in the face of all the violence done in the name of religion, this movie makes us remember that even though the words are different, often times we are singing the same song. -- By Alana B. Elias Kornfeld

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus