"Think about it, duh. Who deserves to be in that kind of situation? No one." So opines a young woman in Nilima Abrams' short documentary "The Tent Village," speaking about impoverished families who make their homes in tents around Bangalore, India.
Out of context, it might sound like something a privileged American college student would say, shocked to encounter deprivation for the first time. In fact, though, the student filmmakers who shot Abrams' doc are young Indians who know the tent villages firsthand. One has a sister there; another, a mother. A title card notes that these young women obtained their education — and liberation from a life of selling toys on the street and marrying at puberty — through the efforts of a small nongovernmental organization called Prema Dharma Charitable Trust.
The students' perspectives and their access to the village dwellers give an unusual richness and balance to "The Tent Village," which will screen on Thursday, March 3, at Maglianero café in Burlington. Abrams will also show her earlier short, "Kimmy's Schedule," about an American girl in foster care.
The filmmaker is a Vermont native with a BA from the University of Vermont and an MFA from Stanford University. Abrams first traveled to India as a toddler — her parents used to visit an ashram there, she told Susan Green in a piece published in Seven Days in 2005. As an undergrad, Abrams made a film about "hope through education" in India. A Fulbright fellowship helped fund her more recent work there, and the credits of "The Tent Village" thank several Vermont filmmakers and organizations that provided support to the film.
The screenings will be paired with a talk by Burlington's Peter Keny, a Sudan native who works with the Sudan Development Foundation and offers a third international perspective on growing up in tough circumstances.
"Most of society doesn't notice that the people who live in tents even exist," says one of the students in the film. A filmmaker straddling two worlds, Abrams seems to be doing her part to change that.
Docs such as "The Tent Village" represent new methods of on-the-spot witnessing and reporting. Once upon a time, though, Americans looked to anchormen such as Dan Rather to bring the world into their living rooms. Then came "Rathergate" — the 2004 media scandal dramatized in the film Truth, which will screen on Sunday, February 28, as part of a four-film series from the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival.
Truth stars veterans Robert Redford (as Rather) and Cate Blanchett (as CBS News producer Mary Mapes, on whose memoir the film is based). But director James Vanderbilt is a first-timer, in keeping with the mission of the MNFF, which debuted last summer as a showcase for filmmakers starting their careers.
The second annual MNFF is scheduled for August 25 to 28. Meanwhile, in March and April, cinephiles can catch screenings of two more films that represent a director's first or second effort: the Turkish coming-of-age drama Mustang, a current Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film; and the 2015 doc What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.
Are you hooked on films that explore the meaty dilemmas of journalism, such as Truth and this year's Best Picture nominee Spotlight? Then Seven Days has a free movie marathon for you — "Spotlight on Journalism," coming to Burlington's Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center on March 19.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Short Takes on Film: Truth in Reporting"
Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.