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Treefort Film Fest 2015: ‘Tomorrow We Disappear’ a magical look at a disappearing way of life

Treefort Film Fest 2015: ‘Tomorrow We Disappear’ a magical look at a disappearing way of life


Tomorrow We Disappear
Directed by Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber
USA/India, 2014

Tomorrow We Disappear has a vibrant, human immediacy that commands attention and, ultimately, delight. This feature documentary by filmmakers Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber chronicles part of the story of the Kathputli Colony in New Delhi, the last artist colony in India. Composed of some 3000 families, its residents – magicians, acrobats, puppeteers, and street performers – are faced with relocation when the city decides to “redevelop” the slum area they live in. The documentary, filmed over several years, captures both the way of life of these artists and their responses to this impending change.

The residents are offered transit housing in a temporary colony, while their homes will be destroyed and new apartment buildings built, along with skyscrapers and a large mall. The land is government-owned, although many Kathputli familes have resided there for generations, and the city offers the artists low-rent housing in the new development. Goldblum and Weber, while clearly sympathetic to the residents’ plight, approach the topic with some subtlety and balance, and their chronicle focuses on three characters in particular.

Rahman Shah, a street magician, is in many ways the heart of the film. He trains his two young sons in the art, but finds himself increasingly beleaguered by policemen who forbid him from performing. In the hum and sway of the political discussions, he is a quiet presence, deeply mourning the future that he sees coming, and concerned primarily with supporting his family and passing down his art.

His friend Puran Bhatt, meanwhile, is a renowned puppeteer who has showcased work all over the world and won India’s prestigious Akademi Award. Puran is deeply involved in the colony’s debates over what to do, and organizes a parade of Kathputl residents to show off their art and call attention to the redevelopment issue. “Our way of life, our art, our culture, will not fit into flats,” he declares.

Maya Pawar, meanwhile, is a young acrobat, who, unlike the other two, looks forward to the change, seeing possibilities in it. She sees, as both Rahman and Puran do, that this way of life is ending, and while she enjoys her work, she doesn’t have the same sense of possessiveness; her dream is to become a teacher, should this development happen. She mourns the lack of resources and poor living of the colony. “Living like this, an artist has no identity.”

A window into a rarely-seen world, Tomorrow We Disappear‘s strength is its emphasis on story: instead of a crafted socio-political statement or a chaotic wider-scope documentary, this is a tender, character-driven film that ably captures the larger elements at stake. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of art, capturing with grace a certain way of life as it fades.  “We may not have much money, but even if we’re poor in our souls, we’re artists in our souls as well.”

— Claire Hellar