Straight-to-VOD Thursday: Sekaten (a documentary by Matt Dunning)
Ivan Radford | On 16, Jan 2014
We introduce a new weekly feature: straight-to-VOD Thursday, which looks at films only available on VOD in the UK.
The words straight-to-DVD conjure up images of dreadful bargain bucket movies and naff sequels. Straight-to-VOD? That doesn’t sound so bad. Indeed, digital distribution is a wonderful thing, particularly for smaller movies. It can give audiences access to arthouse or independent films when they’re only showing at a couple of cinemas. And it can give independent filmmakers a way to release a movie that might otherwise never have been seen, not to mention make money directly from it.
Matt Dunning’s Sekaten is a prime example. A documentary about the annual festival held on the island of Java, it’s a short film that gives an insight into a tradition many UK viewers are unlikely to see.
The Sekaten festival is a week-long celebration of the birthday of the prophet Mohammed that takes place on the fifth to 12th of the Javanese Calendar – right now, in fact.
There are familiar elements to the festivities, from parades to funfairs. But the unique thing is the Gamelan Sekaten, a type of music that is only ever played or heard at the festival.
Dunning decides to use that as the driving force for the 30-minute film. The camera floats through the festival with footage cut together free of dialogue or plot. Disconnected snippets of people walking around and watching events mingle with shots of the Gamelan Sekaten being performed. Happy old men. Curious teenagers. Grumpy-looking kids on their parents’ shoulders. The montage is given a mystical, almost alien-like beat by the bongs and chimes of the percussion, while the shots become increasingly impressive; we move from market stalls to merry-go-rounds right up to a circle of death, in which motorcycles throttle round.
The sound of the engines blends with the crescendo of the tin-pan accompaniment, which creates a tangible sense of atmosphere; when Dunning switches to first-person footage from a carousel, the zoetrope-like effect contrasted against the previous gritty handheld shots is really quite mesmerising.
Be warned, though: at 36 minutes, the documentary is closer to a piece of visual art than a travel diary – Dunning describes it himself as “fairly cosmic”. That may not work for many people, but as a chance to see and hear something completely different to the norm, Sekaten works: it’s an immersive half-hour window into another culture. An invitation to a party you neer knew existed. If you’ve ever considered travelling to Java or Indonesia before, this may well convince you to go.
Sekaten is available to download drectly from www.sekatenfilm.com for $5. Each purchase comes with four bonus mp3 recordings of Gamelan Sekaten.
Have you got a film released only on VOD you would like us to review? Is your favourite film only available on-demand? Send any requests or recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.