Saints and Sensibility

A still from Valley of Saints

In Kashmir, where the shadow of the gun darkens every life, there lives the unique "Dal Lake community". Members of this aquatic community are permanent residents of the Valley's best-known lake and perhaps the only group in the world to live entirely on a waterbody. A new film, Valley of Saints, pays homage to these people as they struggle to maintain the ecological balance of the lake even as political conflicts flare up around them. Made by US-born Kashmiri filmmaker, Musa Syeed, the film has been selected for screening at the Sundance Film Festival (to be held from January 19-29) in Utah in the US.

Valley of Saints weaves its message into an intriguing storyline. Gulzar, a young boatman, decides to leave town in search of a better life, but a week-long military curfew puts paid to his plans. Compelled to stay back, he takes up a job to assist a local scientist, Asifa, who is researching the harmful pollutants in the lake. Soon, the duo comes face to face with an alarming threat not only to the lake but also to their very existence.

Shot during an actual curfew in 2010, the 82-minute-long film merges contemporary issues with traditions, culture and ancient myths. The lead actor, Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, who plays Gulzar, is a real-life boatman on the Dal Lake, and several other cast members belong to the Dal Lake community. The film is in English and Kashmiri, with English subtitles.

Syeed has made films like Bronx Princess, which won the Best Documentary award at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Montana in 2008, and A Son's Sacrifice, another Best Documentary winner at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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