Sunday, July 31, 2005

#20: Film Festival’s Bollywood Offering Re-opens Eastwood’s Palace Theatre 1/20/05 Tomorrow morning at 11, the Syracuse International Film & Video Festival holds a press conference at the newly renovated Palace Theater on James Street in Eastwood. The Festival program itself – with about 150 films & videos in competition plus workshops, international judges & film world guests, & special screenings - doesn’t officially occur until April, but organizers have approached this year’s task as a year-round process rather than a single annual event. Organizers have cultivated widespread community involvement. And they began last spring with the first festival’s screenings to create a model whereby the festival actually happened all over the city of Syracuse – besides Syracuse University’s campus, at the Everson Museum, the IMAX in Armory Square, the Landmark, the Westcott – even on the walls of downtown banks. The venerable Palace, a homegrown movie house if ever there was one, now joins the list. Given the festival’s vision, there’s hardly a more fitting place for tomorrow’s press conference. Built in 1924 by Alfred Dibella when Eastwood was still a village, the Palace reportedly never closed for more than a week until last April. Dibella’s daughter Frances ran it for 45 years after her father. When she died last April, her nephew Michael Heagerty, part owner of Armory Square’s Pastabilities restaurant, announced that he’d keep the Palace going after “a couple weeks” of cleaning & renovation. Eight months & half a million dollars later, the Eastwood grande dame is almost ready for her debut. Besides the symbolic choice of locating tomorrow’s press conference at the Palace, the film festival is sponsoring the first screening there on Sunday afternoon, January 30th – Indian writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s HUM DIL DE CHUKE SANAM (in English, STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART). The choice of a Bollywood extravaganza is fitting too, in keeping with the festival’s international scope & a nod to the Palace’s past. After all, Frances Dibella’s favorite movie was another extravaganza, the 1939 Civil War epic, GONE WITH THE WIND, which actually runs longer than HUM DIL’s 188 minutes. The term Bollywood refers to India’s enormous film industry, based in Bombay & only just recently becoming available with any regularity on Central New York theater screens. These are often films of marathon length, some featuring large-scale musical production numbers. Without much fanfare, Desi Productions & the local store Kashmiri Imports recently began sponsoring packed, one-time screenings of popular Indian films at Mattydale’s Hollywood Theater. This Saturday that series moves to the Westcott Theater for a 5:30 p.m. screening of the drama RAINCOAT, which incidentally also stars Aishwarya Rai & Ajay Devgan, two of the principals in HUM DIL. Interviewed two weeks ago on CBS 60 MINUTES, Aishwarya Rai is a former Miss World who’s successfully transitioned to international modeling & filmmaking. Bhansali cast her again in subsequent films after she won multiple best actress awards for HUM DIL, & writer/director Gurinder Chadha (of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) has also cast her in the starring role in the much anticipated new film BRIDE & PREJUDICE. HUM DIL DE CHUK SANAM is Sanjay Bhansali’s second major feature film. It swept dozens of Bollywood awards in the couple years following its 1999 release. The plot is fairly simple - the working out of a love triangle. Half-Indian Sameer travels to India from Italy to learn classical singing from a master singer who’s ensconced in a lavish compound filled with a large family. He quickly falls in love with the singer’s daughter, Nandini, who’s ordered to marry the more suitable Vanraj. Vanraj undertakes to reunite the lovers once he discovers Nandini’s secret love. This entails their journey to Italy – though filming was done in Budapest - a robbery & shooting, reunions, & Nandini’s discovery of real love. Along the way, there are numerous festivals & a great deal of drama – some would say melodrama, even soap opera, but I think that’s too harsh. The point of this film is the music. Bhansali spent two years working on the music, which reflects traditional music & rituals of the Gujurat region, before turning to the frankly stock story line. The soundtrack has been reviewed nearly as often & enthusiastically as the film, so one disappointment of watching the film is that only the spoken dialogue is subtitled. But the musical production numbers are visually stunning, involving scores of participants & sometimes multiple costume changes within single songs – a glorious kite festival goes for ten minutes across rooftops, for example. I thought that the movie CHICAGO marked a watershed - it was the first time I’d seen a movie musical take that such full advantage of the technology of cinematography. But clearly Bollywood is quite at ease with this! This screening was originally planned as a fund-raiser for the film festival. Earlier this month managing director Christine Fawcett announced that the bulk of the screening’s profit would go to the December 26th tsunami relief efforts,, primarily through two organizations, India’s Asha for Education ( & the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies. Don’t miss out on this event, where so much that is large converges. (846)