Arif is nine and is the breadwinner for his mother, three little brothers and sister. With adult dedication he steers his wooden boat to ferry people across the river. He fights his way through the ice that closes again each night in the winter. He lives in Kashmir, where a bloody conflict has raged between India and Pakistan for many years. Arif's father was a Muslim militant who abandoned his family for the sake of his holy war. With news images of attacks, screaming and wounded victims, film maker Rajesh Jala portrays the historical background that has afflicted Arif's family. The children hate their father for it: what he is doing is evil, and he even abandoned them after condemning them to poverty.
There is a discrepancy in this documentary: the voiceover explains many details of the poverty suffered by this family, but Jala shows little of it. His film is too beautiful and too romantic for that. He utilises the many images of beauty offered by nature: the sun setting behind the mountains, large green lotus leaves in blue water. Certainly, these people's lives are far from perfect: they are poor, their home is destroyed by an earthquake, they live with the threat of war. But Jala shows us five beautiful children dressed in proper clothes with backpacks on their way to school in Arif's boat. They hammer their house back together and Arif uses his earnings to buy a sheet of plastic for the roof. They tumble and laugh and talk about their dreams for the future with bright, shiny eyes. Jala makes the poverty and desperation intangible and unbelievable. What he portrays is the strength, the resilience of children. It is wonderful to spend an entire film looking at a boy like Arif: touching in his seriousness and tenacity.
Floating Lamp Of The Shadow Valley can be seen at the IDFA, International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, 23 November to 3 December. The film will be shown in a special program compiled by Hivos – NCDO Culture Fund on 29 November. The Hivos – NCDO Culture Fund supports film makers from developing countries and selected three documentaries based on the theme New Images – Other Views.