Shot entirely on digital video, since anything bigger would have caused more than just logistical problems in Kashmir, Zero Bridge makes movie history for being the “first narrative film shot in the Kashmiri language,” according to a review by Brandon Harris that’s included on the DVD. I’ll watch any foreign film, to see lands that I’ll never see in person in my lifetime, to learn about cultures and customs that put me in awe of how truly vast this planet is. Zero Bridge delivers on that at first.
Our guide into Kashmir, into Srinagar city, is 17-year-old Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa), whose classmates pay him money to do their homework, but is first seen pickpocketing with a “mentor,” who he claims has ripped him off, which leads to a fight between the two that draws the attention of a police officer, and they’re put in jail, leading to Dilawar’s uncle, Ali (Ali Mohammad Dar), trying to bail him out, but hoping not to pay anything since he’s poor. The officer in charge releases Dilawar on his own name, and Ali puts Dilawar to work on constructing a house with his other men, and picking up payment contracts to be signed by his uncle.
On picking up those contracts, he encounters Bani (Taniya Khan), who he pickpocketed, working in the shipping office where those contracts are. She doesn’t know it was him because she wasn’t looking at the time, and they strike up a gentle friendship. It’s a relief for both, an escape from stagnant lives, living under the expectations of others, such as Ali expecting Dilawar to do everything in their small household, and the same in Bani’s household. They want more. They want lives that are all their own.
Zero Bridge is writer/director/co-editor, etc. Tariq Tapa’s first movie and it’s notable in itself for the Kashmir setting alone. He employs natural sound, never cutting out anything coming in from outside while his actors are speaking. Viewers should know this world and everything in it.
But it’s not enough. In his desire for viewers to know this world intimately, as well as Dilawar and Ali and their living situations and want they want, his story has no energy, no dramatic weight. Instead of feeling vested in Ali and Dilawar, wondering what’s going to happen next, we’re merely observers, kept at arm’s length from what’s going on. Just observe Kashmir, the culture, take what you can from it, and don’t think much about those two. That’s the feeling throughout Zero Bridge. We just drift, waiting for something to happen that can pull us in and not notice that only 40 out of 97 minutes have passed. Tapa is great at establishing the atmosphere of a place, and we can feel that, but that’s not enough to feel.
Despite the Kino Lorber Incorporated label on the spine and back of the DVD case, and on the DVD itself, this is actually an Alive Mind Cinema release from Kino. Despite the disappointment of Zero Bridge, the DVD keeps up the Alive Mind Cinema mission of expanding worldviews, of introducing us to new experiences. Zero Bridge adds more to that mission, with a 15-minute interview with Tapa by Leonard Lopate on WYNC 93.9 FM from February 15, 2011; a 14-minute audio-only recording of the opening night Q&A at Film Forum in New York City on Wednesday, February 16, 2011; an onscreen text statement by Tapa; the aforementioned onscreen text review by Brandon Harris, and an onscreen text interview with Tapa from Guernica Magazine by Amy Rosenberg. The front and back of the Zero Bridge DVD case has laudatory quotes from New York and Los Angeles publications, but Kino Lorber wants viewers from all over the country to know more about these movies, great (Raw Faith) or so-so (this one). If you want to see a DVD label that cares about what it releases, pore over the Kino Lorber catalog. Seek out these DVDs. Shout! Factory and the Criterion Collection aren’t the only ones that care.