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Netherlands, 1988 (MIFF 1990, Documentaries)

Director: Johan van der Keuken

A couple of years ago, distinguished filmmaker Johan van der Keuken and his wife and collaborator Noshka van der Lely visited Kerala, a coastal province in southwestern India. There he conceived and realised The Eye Above the Well, a serene work which affirms the adage "Good listeners make the best storytellers".

Part poetic meditation, part vivid documentation, the film catches us up in the flow of its gentle pace as we are transported through Keralan life. A precocious little girl practices dance. A group of boys play in the river. A moneylender does his daily rounds. Elephants and buses negotiate a crowded street. A village projectionist prepares his afternoon matinee. Teachers impart their "wisdom" on a variety of subjects, ranging from mathematics to temple life and the martial arts.

For this minimally mediated portrait (which eschews voice-over commentary), van der Keuken dwells on three principle aspects. These are (i) the way a culture transmits knowledge from teacher to pupil, from parent to child, (ii) the concrete rhythms that compromise daily existence and (iii) the role of magic and ritual in the transference of knowledge.

Never resting too long in one place, The Eye Above The Well apprehends the dignity and rich beauty of a culture whose soul is centuries old and too rarely revealed. The journey is sublime.
- (LT)

"A recurring theme in my work is the tension between traditional knowledge and modern science and technology. In recent years, the focus of my attention has shifted from the mere need for change to the resistance to change, which seems to be embedded in the very structure of human societies. Education, a prerequisite to change also serves to introduce every new generation to their established values and helps to maintain their resistance to change. This paradox is at the very centre of my new film The Eye Above The Well.
- Johan van der Keuken

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