TIFF 2016: Cinema Travellers Review

TIFF Docs 

The Cinema Travellers is a film about film. Directors Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya have created a documentary about the struggles of maintaining travelling cinemas in India. These travelling cinemas are often embedded in carnivals, an act amongst many, including the typical fare such as roller coasters and circus performers. I believe this film would have benefitted from more context and more setting the scene: it takes a fly-on-the-wall approach that could prove alienating to people who don’t know much about film or the responsibilities of film projectionists. However, it has many pleasures for the patient gear-head cinephile. 

By gear-head, I’m referring to those individuals that love knowing what each part of the projector does. I’m not one of those people. At the beginning of the film, we witness a group of film exhibitors arguing and calling each other names while sticking mud in various places that – I would assume – shouldn’t have mud in them. Throughout the film, gears fall off, shiny lights flicker, and film is damaged by buckets of rain – it should be said that if you are passionate about film restoration, you will die from watching these exhibitors throw bags of film canisters off from the top of a truck. If that doesn’t kill you, a man using film to secure a door will make you wonder what the true purpose of film is in such an impoverished way of life.

I’m not concerned with the inner workings, I just watch the films, like the villagers do as they sit enraptured in the tent – well, most of them. There are some that ask for their money back as they can’t take yet another technical difficulty (maybe if TIFF has another technical difficulty, we can throw mud into the projection room). I would have liked more information about this declining way of life and what the responses were to specific types of films that were being shown (we are not told much about the films showing). However, it could be said that the alienation we experience watching this film is reflective of the day-to-day lives of these cinema travellers – perhaps, they do not have the luxury to be up-to-date on the latest Bollywood stars or what just happened last week at TIFF.


I’d like to give a special note to the profound Prakash who warrants a pause after each philosophical statement that he utters, just so you can really meditate on what the heck he just said. 

Accessibility Note: Good luck asking for subtitles in these travelling tent cinemas – it’s hard enough even getting a ticket or staying dry.

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.