Friday, November 2, 2012

Guyana time, as Shundell Prasad takes us to an exotic locale via FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

We don't see that many movies about -- or coming out of -- Guyana, so, for that reason alone, Trust
Movies was interested in viewing FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, the first narrative film from Shundell Prasad, a young woman who has previously made a couple of documentar-ies. On the plus side, the film offer an ini-tially exotic setting, is relatively colorful and features some good performances from actors both known (Jimi MistryAidan Quinn) and unknown (the rest of the cast).

That's the extent of the positive. On the negative side is just about every-thing else: for starters, plot, characterization, dialog and common sense. If you are going to set your film in a country like Guyana, and  begin it with a lovely scene that takes place during the titular Festival of Lights, and then almost immed-iately move to a scene of enormous violence in which the lives of an entire family are threa-tened, how about giving viewers a little explana-tion of what is going on? Ms Prasad, shown at right, perhaps not want-ing to expose her viewers to too much exposition, elects to leave us totally in the dark.

Not only do we not know what is happening to that poor neighbor family (or why), we're also left wondering why our own little nuclear trio (above) -- mom, dad and daughter -- must leave the country immediately. Politics as usual? Criminal activity? Maybe an evil dictatorship? A little context, please.

In any case, mom and little daughter Reshma are allowed to emigrate to the USA, but not dad, and after a couple of perfunctory "oh, how hard it is for new immigrants!" scenes, mom (the very elegant and beautiful Ritu Singh Pande in her first screen role, above) is suddenly married to her corporate boss (Mr. Quinn) and little Reshma has turned into a very hot and rebellious teenager (Melinda Shankar, below).

The plot, such as it is, involves much mother-daughter tsuris, father idolization, boyfriend trouble, rape and getting into New York Uni-versity by sporting very poor grades. Then it's back to Guyana to find Dad (Mr. Mistry, below), where the movie really falls apart.

As a writer/director, Ms Prasad appears to have little under-standing of how to build suspense or even to clue us in on how and why the bad guys (prison guards, warden and government officials) intend to manage their nefarious deeds. Suddenly we have everything from drugs and guns to prison breaks and double dealing, but who is doing what to whom and why is up for grabs. As silly as this section seems, when we're back in America again, silly goes exponential.

These final sections indicate Ms Prasad as the kind of filmmaker who, if a situation is needed to further her plot, she will damn well make it occur, believable or not. Does Dad need to be at a certain special event? Fine, he'll be there. Must the FBI be kept away from that same event? Sorry. boys, you're out!

The filmmaker's penchant for control-no-matter-what also extends to characterization. These characters, particularly those played by Mr. Quinn and Ms Pande, seem to swivel on a dime to fit whatever new situation is needed. All this does not make for much viewer credence, but I hope that our filmmaker will learn from her mistakes for the next time 'round.

Festival of Lights opens this Friday, November 2, in New York City at the AMC Village 7 theater (the recent Manhattan flood situation permitting), and on the following Friday, November 9, in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Noho 7.

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