“Baitullah” Spotlights Child Labor

It’s a sad fact that millions of children must work in order to survive. Baitullah is about once such laborer, a young boy in Mumbai who delivers tea for a street-side chai wallah. The boy’s name gives the film its title, but the term also means “house of God,” which is also used to refer to any mosque.

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The young protagonist of Baitullah meets the law

The work is a very cinematic experience, as in addition to the lovely cinematography, the film is mostly wordless until the very end. Through the boy’s eyes we see the vibrant streets of Mumbai, packed with a wide variety of people living their lives. It’s notable that the film illustrates the fusion of Muslim and Hindu culture present within the busy metropolis, and the audio track begins with a muzzein’s call to prayer.

Director Jitendra Rai has worked with theatre community in Mumbai for many years, and gives theatre workshops for children. He has also worked extensively with NGOs that focus on children’s issues. Given this background, it makes perfect sense that Rai would make a film that calls attention to child labor.

The film hints at a million stories beyond the brief slice of life that we see, and gives you an inside look into the daily rhythms of an Indian city. Its documentary feel marks it as the modern offspring of Indian cinema’s long history of social realism, which started in the the silent era, and was epitomized by filmmakers of the Indian Parallel Cinema movement, which emerged as an alternative to mainstream Bollywood films. This fruitful era, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s and part of the “Golden Age” of Indian cinema, gave us the work of world-class directors like Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy, and was a precursor to the Indian New Wave of the 1960s.

You can see this marvelous work in Shorts for 7+: Program 2, only at BAICFF 2020.

“Comfortable Position” is an Experimental Delight

Made by students aged 8 to 12 years old from the Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan, Comfortable Position builds on a long history of experimental animation in cinema. The weird, unsettling, and beautiful results could easily be shown right alongside work from influential Czech animator Jan Svankmajer.

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Hypnotized! from Comfortable Position

It’s refreshing to see kids willing to utilize an abstract, non-linear framework to tell a story. The film’s theme concerns sleep and dreams, and its young filmmakers smartly embraced the illogic of human imagination under the spell of the dozing brain. A variety of animation styles converge to weave a phantasmic landscape of dark images, narrated by a young boy whose voice takes on the persona of a hypnotist lulling us into slumber.

Most Western animation often tends to be very plotty or funny, most often created as entertainment, while the history of animation from areas like Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is packed with wildly experimental films. The difference in styles, in part, is because of commercial versus artistic aims. Cross-pollination and tension between these two styles of filmmaking has only resulted in better films, as we’ve gotten commercial animated features that embrace experimental styles (Disney’s Fantasia, 1940), and experimental films that embrace the framework of narrative (Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, 1989).

It’s safe to say that Comfortable Position mostly ignores this highfalutin debate, and simply demonstrates the joy of young filmmakers who have unleashed their wild creativity.

Be sure to see it as part of our program Shorts By Kids: 7+.

Films That Bewitch

Magic is a topic often visited in children’s films, as its depiction lends itself to fun visuals. Two of our films this year deal with the unexpected consequences of magic use. It goes without saying that apprentices shouldn’t dabble in major magic, yet both films trade in this timeless idea.

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A witch meets her would-be familiar in Kitten Witch

Kitten Witch is a live-action film featuring the animated character of a cat who seeks to become a witch’s familiar. In order to get the job, she must go on a quest to find various magical ingredients. Our plucky feline heroine’s journey provides us with many visual treats along the way, and the story’s unusual outcome is not what you expect.

The other magical film in our program, Dragon Recipes, also concerns witchery. A young sorceress assembles ingredients in a cauldron when following a build-your-own-dragon recipe, but her inexperience creates an unexpected result. Anybody who’s burned their dinner can certainly relate to her frustration. And as many a TV program host has noted — kids, don’t try this at home!

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A witch tries to follow the instructions in Dragon Recipes

Both of these films utilize 3D animation to very different effect; Kitten Witch aims for a certain amount of realism, while Dragon Recipes has a bright cartoonish look and feel. Yet both have their charms, magical and entertainment-wise.

Each film typifies the imagination required to create believable worlds, characters, and stories. Because as any filmmaker will tell you, filmmaking is indeed magic. Even when recipe goes a little wrong, the strangest concoctions can still weave compelling spells.

Be sure not to miss these bedazzling films at this year’s BAICFF 2020, along with many other creative visions sure to enchant you. Kitten Witch is part of Shorts for 7+: Program 2, while Dragon Recipes is featured in Shorts All Ages: Program 1.

This Speedy Chimp Hits “400 MPH”

400 MPH is one of those movies made for the pure joy of filmmaking. The directorial team of Paul-Eugène Dannaud, Julia Chaix, Lorraine Desserre, Alice Lefort, Natacha Pianeti, and Quentin Tireloque have created a fun, riveting short with a photorealistic style.

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The simian protagonist of 400 MPH

Its chimpanzee hero not only wants to go fast, but seeks to drive ever faster to break each successive speed record and shatter the magic barrier of 400 miles per hour. It’s the history of the human conquest of the land speed record in miniature, as if it perhaps occurred on the Planet of the Apes; the film’s vehicles are even inspired by actual designs used in real historic speed record attempts.

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It takes a village to make a monkey go fast!

The film’s audio is just as important as its images, and the roar of powerful engines helps build an atmosphere of white-knuckle intensity. An excellent synth score caps the film’s emotional climax.

These are the kind of filmmakers who clearly aim to create features in the future, so keep an eye on these talented folk, as you’re sure to hear their names again.

Be sure to see 400 MPH in the Shorts for 7+: Program 1 at BAICFF 2020, and bring your crash helmet!