The thought provoking realities of Jayisha Patel’s shortfilm Circle, stands in stark contrast to the realities of the cotton-picking corner of Alabama – portrayed in Maris Curran’s short While I Yet Live.
Not so very long ago, most documentaries were short films and most shorts were documentaries. The Berlin International Film Festival – the Berlinale – introduced the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at its sixth renewal in 1956, and the first thirteen winners were documentaries. It wasn’t until 1971 that a live-action fiction triumphed: Paul B. Price’s 1501½.
Nearly five decades on, the tables have decisively turned. At the 68th edition of the hugely popular festival that ran from February 15-25 this year; 22 shorts vied for the Golden Bear – 13 of them fiction. But even this ratio far exceeded the features slate, in which only one of the 19 contenders could be classed as a documentary.
Of the 21 directors in the Golden Bear features competition, four were female (19 per cent). Among the shorts, however, the gender-balance was almost exactly twice as healthy: 9/24, or 38 per cent. Among these, two documentary standouts dealt most directly and powerfully with women’s experiences: Jayisha Patel’s Circle and Maris Curran’s While I Yet Live.
In each instance, the directors deploy the short-film format – both films run roughly a quarter of an hour – to explore subjects and topic that could easily form the basis for a picture of conventional feature-length duration. Their works take differing but similarly productive approaches to the economy and brevity of their chosen medium.
Circle – Indian inter-generational exploitation
Born in London in 1987, Jayisha Patel studied economics at Nottingham University and documentary-making at Cuba’s International Film & TV School. She returned to the Caribbean island to make A Paradise, which competed for the Golden Bear in 2014, and also Adentro (2015). A commission from Al Jazeera resulted in the same year’s Power Girls, chronicling the exploits of India’s ‘female Red Brigade’ –an urban anti-rape vigilante movement based in Lucknow – the bustling capital of the northern state Uttar Pradesh, India.
Circle is a logical development from Power Girls, Patel moving from the urban centres of ‘UP’ — India’s most populous area, with 200 million inhabitants – to a remote village in the north-east of the state. Here the focus is on a single village and family – indeed, on a single teenage girl, Kushbu – who is about to be married to a man she has barely met and whom she doesn’t know. Through scraps of overheard dialogue («they tied a scarf over my mouth») it becomes apparent that this demure and downcast young woman has suffered rape, apparently «organised» by her own grandmother.
«It becomes apparent that this demure and downcast young woman has suffered rape, apparently «organised» by her own grandmother.»
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