One of the best parts of the Hot Docs Film Festival is its ability to bring exotic images from the far corners of the planet to Canada. Over the years there have been films about pirates in Somalia, child armies running wild in Columbia, and sauna culture in Finland. Enter a new tale: an explosively colourful, unusual, and even baffling visual feast from India called "Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens."
The setting is The Sonepur Fair, an Indian region that borders Nepal. It's dusty, humid and hot, and the countryside is a little rundown. The rivers Ganges and Gandak run along the fairgrounds, where hundreds of pilgrims wash and converse. While it offers a midway, dancing, singing and motor sports, it's not the most modern-looking of events; think traditional India meets "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."
The fair takes place every November, on the full moon day of Kartika Purnima. It has been a destination for centuries. Sonepur is an animal trading market, a stunt festival, a beauty contest and a social celebration all in one. Early images in the film include an elephant being washed in the river, a mechanic building a motorbike engine part by part, and a somewhat rickety-looking big-top circus tent being raised. With no narration, this observational doc may leave you wondering what the heck this fair is all about, and what the attendees are doing there, but this tightrope-style viewing is what makes this film so curious and fun to watch.
As the lens travels through the dust and the people, it captures horses and donkeys being brought in for trade, mystics and fortunetellers vying for attention, and a woman possessed near the river being flogged by holy men and cleansed with smoke. In another scene, hundreds of men wait in line to watch a stage chock-full of young beauties shaking their bodies and wearing sexy skin-tight saris. Music is blaring from speakers at every corner, most of the sounds blending traditional Indian music with modern auto-tuned vocals.
French filmmakers Cédric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz are at the helm on this one. You may have caught one of their last docs, "We Don't Care About Music Anyway" & "The Right Man at the Right Place." I can only imagine how hard it was for these two Frenchmen to blend into the scads of people enjoying the Indian midway, but somehow the attention that they and their cameras must have garnered doesn't get in the way of the storytelling. There's a lot of fantastic imagery to work with here, but it's their skill of editing this doc to make it look almost like a pop video that makes it jump off the screen.
For westerners, this is the stuff of far-off lands, strange and unusual in their customs and celebrations. Clocking in at just under an hour, this is the perfect doc to get lost in. Enjoy scratching your head at the wild images in a world which too often believes that there's nothing left to discover.
Scotiabank Theatre 7, Thurs., May 1, 4:30 p.m.