Film Festival finishes season

Saturday night marked the end of the almost month-long run of Carnegie Mellon’s student-run International Film Festival: Faces of Work.

The small audience in McConomy Auditorium listened to the kind words of thanks from Festival Director Jolanta Lion gave to students who helped her and individuals who supported the film festival. Lauralei Kraski, assistant to the director, also expressed her appreciation to those who put so much time into the festival’s construction, as well as audience members, many of whom went to multiple film festival showings.

Prior to the screening of the evening’s feature film, the audience was shown a documentary short by the late Professor Paul S. Goodman, to whom the festival was dedicated. In addition to being a professor of organizational psychology at Carnegie Mellon, Goodman was the director of the Institute for Strategic Development and the director of the Center for the Management of Technology. Much beloved by the university community, Goodman was also an avid filmmaker responsible for numerous short documentaries chronicling individuals in the workplace and detailing how work was and is defined in America.

The short showed at the film festival was called Waitress. It consisted of narration by Goodman, and extensive interviews with Toni, a waitress with 23 years of experience at Scotty’s Diner here in Pittsburgh. Though a little campy, the film was satisfying and, dare I say it, adorably dated, having been filmed in 1996. The ten minutes or so of the film included very ‘90s hairstyles in addition to some interesting reflections on being a waitress from Toni. It was gratifying to witness the work of a Carnegie Mellon professor be so appreciated.

The final film in the Festival, an Indian film from 2014, Court, dealt with so many themes that it was a little difficult to understand the film’s message. Though that might have been a part of the film’s artistic point, Director Chaitanya Tamhane’s first feature production dealt with issues of bureaucracy, artistic expression, classism, and racism throughout. The film follows the incarceration and court dates of self-proclaimed “folk musician” Narayan Kamble, who is brought into court on the transparently flawed charge of “abetting suicide.” The prosecution claims that Kamble incited a sewer worker to commit suicide after allegedly encouraging all sewer workers to kill themselves. What follows is an understated and honest portrayal of India’s flawed justice system. Kamble’s trial is postponed multiple times, the investigating officer collaborates with a witness who is the only witness for the prosecution, and all the while Kamble’s health deteriorates in a prison cell.

Kamble’s devoted lawyer Vinay Vora seems resigned whenever they postpone the trial to a date, often a month or more in the future even after just a few minutes of procedure. There is no outcry for court reform in the movie. Once, prosecutor Nutan complains about the duration of this trial, but she does not frame it explicitly as a fault of the system. In this particular conversation she discusses the speed with which judges can get through cases that come to court. This sort of conversation, skirting around the edge of the issue at hand, is largely what makes the film’s critiques so powerful.

The private lives of Vora and Nutan bring to light a fascinating dichotomy. Vora comes from a family of great wealth. His position as a lawyer is not the most frugal or the most natural for a man of his status. There exists tension, but also extreme luxury. One scene shows Vora hanging out with friends in an upscale bar with live, Western-style music, in comparison to Kamble’s folk music. In another scene he picks up a plethora of very fancy cheeses in a nice grocery store. Even though he comes from a place of elevated status, Vora still wishes to help those less fortunate than himself. He feels a moral responsibility for his clients that are victims of the system, such as Kamble.

On the other hand, public defender Nutan comes from a social strata more similar to those who are facing court charges. Though she is not an evil character, Nutan does not feel the same level of social responsibility.

Chock-a-block full of thought-provoking contradictions, Court is a nuanced exploration of various social issues in India. Though I think it would have been useful to enter the film knowing a little bit more about the Indian legal system, and social issues present in the area, the film managed to convey many important points I understood, despite my personal ignorance.

Most importantly, Court closed Carnegie Mellon’s Film Festival powerfully. The fact that Carnegie Mellon is the home of the only student-run international film festival in the country is truly amazing. Movies have the power to transcend cultures, religions, and ideologies, making film a powerful tool for educating people around the globe. I sincerely hope to see next year’s attendance to this spectacular month of thoughtful art increase.