BIFF 2013 - Travelling Light - Cinema Review

'I like ham, for example. Would I be able to film fifty-seven minutes of staring at various hams and then go on to call it a film? I somehow doubt it. Passion is expressed through film often but rarely in this way. There's a reason for that.'

As reviews of An Anthropological Televison Myth and, to a lesser extent, Babylon and Citadel, will also attest; BIFF has had a love affair this year with abstract documentaries (and shorts, but that's another story). These set of three are all guilty to some extent or another but Travelling Light has the dubious honour of being the film that finally frayed my patience with the sub-genre. No matter how you cut it, I just cannot see a positive argument for a film composed almost entirely of looking out of a train window.

Shot on a train journey from Penn Station to Pittsburgh, Travelling Light has a stated passion for the railroad. On this logic you can understand the thought process behind pointing a camera at a window and recording your revered view but take said logic a few steps further and things become a little hazy. I like ham, for example. Would I be able to film fifty-seven minutes of staring at various hams and then go on to call it a film? I somehow doubt it. Passion is expressed through film often but rarely in this way. There's a reason for that.

A documentary should be many things but amongst them you can commonly list; educational, entertaining, enlightening and revealing. Travelling Light is none of those things. We've all been on a train at some point and most of us, I would suggest, probably still quite like them, at least in a functional way. I am unconvinced of the need then for Travelling Light's attempts to remind us just how 'great' a train journey can be and if that need is there, this is not the way to do it.

Now, search hard enough and you can find positive spins on Travelling Light, noticeably this piece. The only evidence to the contrary I can offer, aside from my own opinion, is the reaction of the BIFF audience. Of twenty-four people in attendance, there were four walkouts (the highest I saw at any screening), two different individuals were noticeably asleep at some point, whilst two more were so un-engaged they had their mobile phones out, rare for a BIFF audience. My personal tipping point was the moment where the camera operator can be heard declaring yet another shot of the train window as 'oh my God, look at that, that looks awesome', at which point presumably he was gazing so much up his own navel that he promptly disappeared into it.

At another point we see a man, sitting on the train, singing softly to himself. I assumed this was because he was bored by the innate dullness of his journey. I heartily sympathised. The end was a personal mercy. Had it not arrived when it did I may have been forced to commit seppuku with my bic.




The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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