Documentary, not rated, 74 minutes, in Ladakhi with subtitles,
The Santa Fe International Film Festival offers two documentary features set in the remote mountains of Ladakh, India: about a child believed to be the reincarnation of a sacred and The Shepherdess of the Glaciers. The latter film, co-directed by Christiane Mordelet and Stanzin Dorjai, the brother of Tsering, the shepherdess of the film’s title, is a tale of devotion in a place where one misstep can mean sudden death. Tsering is a stoic woman, among the last shepherdesses in the region and committed to preserving a dying occupation. At 16,500 feet up in the Gya-Miru Valley, Tsering tends a flock of hundreds of sheep and goats facing predation by wolves and snow leopards (one of which crawls inside her tent one night). She deals with the threat of harsh winters, and, save for her bond to the animals, loneliness.
The film was the Grand Prize winner at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in 2016. To the viewer, the landscape Tsering inhabits is alternately beautiful and barren and always rugged. Her remarkable story is one of resilience, and she possesses an indomitable spirit. Still, it’s heartbreaking to hear her tell how much it’s like losing her only friend when her old radio — her main connection to the greater world and an object she calls her mom, her dad, her brother, and her sister — stops working. She lives without most of the amenities most of us are used to, miles from the nearest human contact, except for when Stanzin comes to stay with her. We learn she chose this life years before instead of marrying, opting to maintain an existence as the last herder in her family. But she does get homesick for the life she left behind, especially at night when it’s bitter cold.
Hers is a remarkable story, filmed over the course of four seasons when Tsering was fifty years old, that also offers insights into the Buddhist way of life, one that enables Tsering to cope with the difficulties she faces. She takes simple pleasure in her intimate relationship with her flock, leading them through perilous terrain on the quest to find pastures for grazing. Were it not for the fact that her occupation involves extremely hard work with no respite, and no time off, one almost envies her off-the-grid existence, and certainly admires her determination to survive. — Michael Abatemarco If the shorts programs in the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival serve as a true barometer, we’re going to be seeing many more pictures made by women in the years to come. Although there are certainly outstanding short films made by men, many of the most exciting and exceptional works this year came from women. Here are a few you won’t want to miss among Shorts Programs 1 through 5, along with New Mexico Narrative and Documentary Shorts.
▼ by Laura Moss. Fresh from successes at the Tribeca and South by Southwest film festivals,
is the harrowing coming-of-age saga of a teenage girl attending the “festivities” outside the Florida prison where serial killer Ted Bundy is set to be electrocuted in the winter of 1989. Much of the tension grows out of the Polaroids taken by the young woman (Jordyn DiNatale), who sells them as $2 souvenirs to the throng gathered for the killing. Veteran actress Elizabeth Ashley co-stars. Center for Contemporary Arts, 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19; 3 p.m. Oct. 20; 8 p.m. Oct. 21. Shorts Program 1: U.S. Shorts.
▼ by Britt Raes. Here’s an imaginative Belgian animation about a young girl who keeps accidentally killing her pets until she takes charge of Catherine, a magical cat that seemingly makes the most of its nine lives. The film evolves as it progresses, becoming a humorous soliloquy on old age and crazy
Center for Contemporary Arts, 1 p.m. Oct. 20; 3:45 p.m. Oct. 21. Shorts Program 5: Animation and Experimental.
▼ by Jessica Kingdon. This is a colorful and kaleidoscopic strolling tour of Yiwu Market, the world’s largest wholesale mall outside Shanghai, where vendors in booths peddle thousands of different goods, from Santa statues to hair ornaments. We witness the haggling that goes on, the unruly kids in tow, and the merchants trying to sneak in a little nap. Center for Contemporary Arts, 1 p.m. Oct. 20; 3:45 p.m. Oct. 21. Shorts Program 5: Animation and Experimental.
▼ by Brissa Piñera. This circus allegory recounts a time when smiles become endangered, after an evil ringmaster takes charge of a community circus. Pinera, a native of Querétaro, Mexico, shot this at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design using talent from Wise Fool New Mexico. Center for Contemporary Arts, 8:10 p.m. Oct. 20; 3 p.m. Oct. 22. New Mexico Narrative Shorts.
▼ by Jacob Rosdail. This short documentary explores life along the Gila River outside Silver City. The film gets into the competing views between environmentalists and ranchers wanting to commercialize the river. Center for Contemporary Arts, 6:15 p.m. Oct. 20; 1 p.m. Oct. 22. New Mexico Documentary Shorts, CCA.