If you’re looking for a movie to take you far, far away from Denton and Thin Line Fest, look no further than feature film The Modern Jungle and its accompanying short, Travelogue Tel Aviv. From the bustling cosmopolis of Tel Aviv, Israel, to the remote rainforests of Chiapas, Mexico, these films transport the viewer into new (and sometimes unsettling) places full of vibrant culture, political strife, and human experience.
Samuel Patthey’s short portrait of Tel Aviv is a bit like a living journal. Patthey is an artist who is particularly skilled in sketching, and after a stint in Israel, he decided to animate several sketches from the trip. As Patthey explains on his website, Travelogue Tel Aviv is “a summary of all the sketches I drew in Israel during my exchange semester in Tel Aviv.” The animated sketches pull the viewer from place to place: from beach to café, nightclub to synagogue. The color and movement of Patthey’s sketches mimic their subjects beautifully, bringing the illustrations fully to life. There is a sense of excitement and adventure throughout, and the film’s speed never wavers — except for a somber 30-second stretch where an air raid siren sounds, and the entire city freezes.
The Modern Jungle is a stark contrast to to Patthey’s short in almost every way. Slow-paced and methodical in its storytelling, this collaboration between directors Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak follows two neighbors—Juan Juarez Rodriguez and Carmen Echavarria Gomez—two neighbors living in the indigenous Zoque farmlands of Chiapas, Mexico. The film centers largely on Juan, a field worker and shaman who has suffered from a hernia for some time. Because he is so poor, Juan is unable to seek treatment until Fairbanks and Kak strike an unconventional deal with him: allow them to follow Juan and Carmen in their daily lives, and the directors will pay their subjects per diem.
The viewer quickly begins to notice differences between Juan and Carmen. Carmen spends her days in the lush forest foraging for food, gathering wood, and collecting flowers for offerings at her altar. Carmen’s routine is unchanging and consists entirely of cooking, gathering, and prayer—a simple life apart from the city and, thanks to Zoque enthusiasm for the Zapatista movement, a life almost completely divorced from capitalism and money. Juan, however, is anxious for money. He knows that if he can cobble together the funding to fix his hernia, he will be able to live without daily pain. Although Juan is able to hitch a ride to a hospital for a consultation with a doctor, he falls prey to a corporation promising nutrient-rich treatments similar to his shamanic curatives: OmniLife, a multi-level-marketing company that hocks powdered beverages and milkshakes.
The perspectives in The Modern Jungle and Travelogue Tel Aviv share a quality of otherness. That’s no big surprise, since the films’ directors were outsiders in their own projects. For instance, Modern Jungle co-director Charles Fairbanks, an American, was dubbed “the Gringo” by the Zoque (who did not entirely trust his presence) for the duration of filming. Patthey’s inspiration for Travelogue Tel Aviv came from experiences during his semester abroad, far away from his native Switzerland. However, each film makes quick work of getting the viewer emotionally and intellectually invested in its subject—no small task when exploring remote or little-known places.
Travelogue Tel Aviv runs 6 minutes and The Modern Jungle runs 71 minutes and both will be shown Saturday, April 21 at 3:30 p.m. at Movie Tavern as part of Thin Line Film Festival. To register for Thin Line Fest or to purchase a premium registration, click here.