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Destinations Edited by Josh Foreman (joshforeman@groovekorea.com)

of India. The opening of the 11th International Children’s Film Festival was mentioned, but an article on the front page caught my eye. It was a tragedy, a freakish accident that had just happened. Forty schoolgirls were about to perform a dance and were waiting in a school bus parked behind the stage. They wore nylon dresses and translucent plastic masks on their faces. The choreography called for the girls to arrive on a dark stage, illuminated only by the sparklers they held. One teacher had the idea of lighting the sparklers inside the bus to save time. A girl dropped her sparkler on her dress, which instantly caught fire and spread. Trapped in the bus, only a few escaped. My film, “When the Stars Came Dreaming,” was the first screening of the festival, and I woke up early so as not to miss it. The festival bus was late, waiting for other filmmakers. My screening was at 9, and I was supposed to give a talk after the show with a Q-and-A session. Except for the premiere in Portland, it was the first time I was going to watch it with a foreign audience. At 9:15, the bus had not left yet, and I was starting to get worried; my film was only eight minutes long. “Not to worry,” a festival programmer told me. “We never start on schedule – Indian time.” The festival did not run on Indian time. My film had already shown when I got there. The huge theater blasted frigid air and I stayed along with other directors to watch films during the day. Kids drew circles on the screen with their laser pointers during scenes they liked. Back at the hotel for cocktails, I was in a discussion with my new filmmaker friends when a large man I’d spoken to on the elevator walked in. He looked very familiar but it

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took a few seconds before I realized he was Roger Ebert, the film critic from The Chicago Sun-Times and half of the critic duo Siskel and Ebert; Gene Siskel had just died a couple months before. He came to my table to talk with the festival director, and introduced himself. “Hello. I’m Roger.” He was just in for a couple of days after the Calcutta Film Festival. Ebert asked why I was there, and I told him my film was in competition. “Good luck!” he said. “The new blockbuster ‘Taal’ is showing tonight. I’m trying to get a group together to see it. Would you like to join us?” How could I refuse an invitation from the world’s most influential film critic? Roger and I hopped in an auto rickshaw, him taking up most of the back seat. He asked about my film in a genuine, interested way. I did not have the nerve to tell him I worked for the studio that had parodied him a few years before in “Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas.” In that movie, he was presented as a fat triceratops: a bumbling movie critic buffoon continuously stuffing his face with popcorn and soda. Instead, I mentioned a famous scene where another Roger — Moore, of Bond fame — rode in an auto rickshaw in the film “Octopussy.” It was the same three-wheeled, black-andyellow contraption, except ours did not pop wheelies. Roger didn’t seem to recall the scene or care about the film. It was once again freezing in the cinema, with the air conditioning set at the maximum. More people drew patterns on the screen with their laser pointers (adults this time). The next day, on our way to the market in another auto rickshaw, two motorcycles had

an accident, crashing head-on right in front of our vehicle. They were not wearing helmets, and one of the bike drivers’ flip-flops flew off. My driver slammed on the brakes and veered to avoid running over the man. The rickshaw behind us rammed into our bumper. Meanwhile, the traffic had not stopped anywhere except in our lane. The Madina market lies in the center of the old city next to the Charminar, a Muslim gate with four minarets, one at each corner, that make it look like a drive-through mosque. I bought some mehandi: plastic cones filled with henna used to decorate women’s hands for weddings. The salesman at the store did not speak English. A voice next to me asked “May I help you?” It was a Muslim woman, dressed in black, veiled from head to toe, with only her eyes and her hands showing. Her eyes were lined with thick kohl (a black eyeliner that’s been used since ancient times) and her hands painted with intricate henna designs, a status symbol indicating that she does not work with her hands. The initial shock was not that I couldn’t see her face, but that a Muslim woman would actually talk to me, a foreigner who was obviously not from her faith. She translated and haggled for me, and afterwards we made small talk — the usual “Where are you from?” and “What do you do here?” To this day, it is still the only time that a veiled Muslim woman has ever talked to me, an unthinkable taboo in the Middle East. Later on, another woman recognized me and came over while I walked around the Madina, this time a Chinese director attending the festival. She was lost, did not speak English and could not remember the name of our hotel. Disheveled and shell-shocked, she

Groove Korea January 2014  

Groove is Korea's English magazine for Insight, Travel, Culture, Dining and Shopping

Groove Korea January 2014  

Groove is Korea's English magazine for Insight, Travel, Culture, Dining and Shopping

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