Silent film gets new life at doco fest

May 28th, 2023Silent film gets new life at doco fest

ALMOST century-old silent masterpiece of documentary filmmaking will be given new life next month when an acclaimed singer performs a “sound-track”.

Words: Kevin Childs | Image: Contributed

AN ALMOST century-old silent masterpiece of documentary filmmaking will be given new life next month when an acclaimed singer performs a “sound-track”.
Grass, made in 1925, recounts the yearly migration of 50,000 tribespeople into Iran, taking 500,000 animals across fierce wide rivers and snowy peaks to fresh pasture. The trek has been going on for a thousand years.
The film will be shown at the Castlemaine Documentary Festival, which runs from June 16 to 18, with the music by ZOJ, a Ballarat duo comprising acclaimed singer Gelareh Pour and her partner on drums, Brian O’Dwyer.
Festival director Claire Jager found ZOJ, which is modern Persian for couple, through a computer search for Iranian musicians in Central Victoria who might compose an original score. To Jager’s knowledge, such a silent film-live music collaboration has not been done before.
Born in Iran, Gelareh is a singer and songwriter, who also plays a bowed lute
called a qeychak. She has performed in Iran, Tajikistan and across Europe. In
Australia she has appeared at festivals and venues across the country, collaborating
with leading innovative musicians as well as producing three albums.
So how did all this come about? “Inadvertently,” says director Jager. “A Turkish
woman got in touch with me to suggest a festival of Iranian films, which led to Grass.”
Another happy coincidence: it will be shown during Refugee Week.
It is one of the first films to study a culture. Jager says she knew of it through her
30 years in the field of documentaries and was able to track down a new print in the
Under its full title, Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, the documentary was chosen
for preservation by the American Library of Congress as “culturally, historically or
aesthetically significant”.
Another reason for Grass having such fame is that Merian C. Cooper, one of its
three directors and producers went on to make the classic King Kong.
Another producer was Marguerite Harrison, who also worked as a reporter and
translator as well as spying for the US in Japan and the Soviet Union in the 1920s.
She was held for 10 months in the notorious Lubyanka prison.
She first met Cooper at a ball in Warsaw during the early days of the war between
Russia and Poland, giving him food, blankets and books when the Russians jailed
him in 1920.
By contrast, another documentary takes the viewer into the world of descendants
of camel drivers in Australia, commonly called Afghans, although most were from
the far west of British India, including today’s Pakistan. Others came from Egypt and
Watandar, My Countryman centres on an effort by a descendant of the cameleers,
Muzafar Ali, to film them to try to understand his new Afghan-Australian identity. It
is directed, written, and produced by Jolyon Hoff who, like Ali, lives in Indonesia.
Journeying far from his favourite surfing beaches, Hoff undertook a type of road
trip looking for the cameleers and filming Ali on his mission.
Another festival highlight is Weed & Wine, described by Jager as an intriguing
account of a French family with centuries-old vineyards and a son who runs a staterecognised cannabis farm in California.
And this year C-Doc introduces a second venue – The Yurt – a beautiful microcinema located in easy walking distance to the Theatre Royal. The Yurt features
an alternative program of family-friendly sessions across the Saturday and Sunday
mornings and enticing programs for young people in the afternoons and evenings.
It will also host an immersive interactive parlour game, Werewolves, for more daring
Link and tickets: www.cdocff.com.au

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