The Miscreants of Taliwood -- Film Review

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TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Australian director George Gittoes is a unique kind of guerrilla filmmaker who ventures into the most dangerous parts of the world to send out bulletins from the front lines. His latest documentary, "The Miscreants of Taliwood," finds him on location in the Taliban-dominated sections of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Yet "Miscreants" cannot really be called a war film. It's instead a look inside the low-budget Pakistani movie industry that churns out action epics and mini-Bollywood musicals right under the noses of the Taliban overlords.

It's rare for a documentary to be called truly eye-opening, but this picture accomplishes the feat of showing us a part of the world we could never imagine. It may not have a life beyond the festival circuit, but it will galvanize audiences who see it.

Gittoes touches on the repressive nature of the Islamic fundamentalist regime, particularly its oppression of women, but this is only incidentally a political movie. More often, it's a bizarre comedy about the fringes of low-budget filmmaking. Who knew that Pakistan had such a booming movie business, where epics are churned out for the DVD market with an average budget of $4000 per film? While these pictures are often cheesy, they represent a form of creative freedom for Pakistani artists, especially for women who participate in the movies. The stars of these films are celebrities in the cities and villages of Pakistan, and the films serve as a kind of escape for the embattled citizens. The religious zealots in Pakistan want to stamp out all forms of music and film -- except, ironically, the propaganda movies that the Taliban itself produces to recruit martyrs.

Gittoes sees the battle over the film industry in Pakistan as a classic struggle for freedom of expression, and he is not content merely to document this battle from the sidelines. In one of the more startling developments, he agrees to take a starring role in one of the low-budget epics, at which point "Miscreants" takes on some of the surreal flavor of "Being John Malkovich." The great strength of the doc is its irreverent sense of humor. Its only failing is a penchant for preachiness.

As a piece of filmmaking, "Miscreants" is impressive. The cinematography thrusts us into the middle of the action, and the editing is dynamic. While some viewers might have preferred a broader overview of the politics of Pakistan, it's impossible to separate the filmmaker from the stranger-than-fiction adventure he chronicles.

Venue: Telluride Film Festival
Director: George Gittoes
Screenwriters: George Gittoes, Gabrielle Dalton
Producer: Gabrielle Dalton
Directors of photography: George Gittoes. Waqar Alam
Music: Amant Ali Khan
Editor: Nick Meyers
No MPAA rating, 94 minutes
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