An entertaining world tour of small-town movie houses and the dedicated cineastes who maintain them, “Comrades in Dreams” is a delight. Helmed by German documaker Uli Gaulke (“Marry Me”), pic criss-crosses India, Burkina Faso, North Korea and the U.S., and should get its passport ready for fests worldwide; programmers will be scrambling for this item, which will appeal to hard-core film buffs and general auds as well. Commercial release and possible ancillary sales are possible. A briefer tube version is ready to roll for enthusiastic pubcasters.
While there are obvious differences between each interviewee, the docu also makes much of the things subjects have in common, despite their geographical distance. The problems each encounter will generate a sense of deja vu for exhibitors everywhere.
Twenty-five-year-old Anup Jagdale, caught by the helmer setting up his circus tent and huge screen in the impoverished Indian town of Shingnapur, has the same aim as the three men of Burkina Faso, who lease a defunct roofless cinema from a government municipality, and the woman who runs the barn-like Flick theater in Big Piney, Wyo., with a staff of volunteers: All are trying to make a living from showing movies.
Even though she is not looking to turn a profit, Han Yong-sil, the only female technician in North Korea and a 30-year vet of the film industry, is looking for pics that will encourage workers to do their best and help her comrades achieve collective prosperity.
Each subject has to take the films they can get. Han’s preferred film for Chongsan-ri’s Cultural House Cinema goes to another cinema, while the trio of African entrepreneurs who run the “Emergences” cinema almost lose their print of Kim Basinger vehicle “Cellular.”
Of the four nationalities on offer, only the North Korean cinema gets real exposure. The propaganda qualities of romancer “Our Flavor” are obvious from clips. But Gaulke shows little interest in the influence of Indian or American cinema on the lives and perceptions of their native auds.
Helmer uses James Cameron’s “Titanic” to draw a connecting line between the four locales. Jagdale explains that his poverty-stricken landlocked auds don’t understand the story of Cameron’s blockbuster and cannot conceive of such a big ship or of so much water. In contrast, the desert-dwelling African women speak of what “Titanic” teaches them about true love and fidelity. In a departure from the pic’s frank, but generally light-hearted interviews, Flick manager Penny Tefertiller can’t keep from sobbing when a staff member describes the loneliness of the people huddled in the post-iceberg lifeboats.
While the co-ordination and execution of such a globetrotting docu must have required intricate planning, helming is rather passive. Gaulke is satisfied with using the camera mostly as an observer, and letting auds connect the dots, such as the counterpoint between Wyoming’s obese soda and popcorn consumers and the leaner movie patrons of the developing world.
Original soundtrack by Mark Orton skillfully incorporates the regional flavor, but maintains a consistency that prevents jarring transitions. Despite what must have been trying conditions in most locations, tech credits are strong.