Almost a decade ago two friends wrote me letters from India that left me scratching my head in amazement, wondering what to make of the fact that the music of Michael Jackson was emanating from boom boxes amid the traditional Indian music and dance of a village festival. Now Nina Davenport has fleshed out the story of a rapidly changing land in this personal documentary. Originally a photographer, she shot the film during the year she spent traveling across India. Her fine eye for incongruities is accentuated by her staccato editing. We see circus performers, traffic passing cows lying in the street, a school for the blind, and chained-up people who appear to be in a trance. The film opens with larger-than-life cutouts of Indian movie stars being carried in the street, the first of many references to the Bombay film industry. Davenport’s camera attracted attention, so we see many images of crowds gathering around the lens; these heighten the film’s central contrast, between people (and animals) going about their business impervious to observers and those concerned with displaying themselves, behavior that in Davenport’s film seems connected to modern influences. There are no explanatory voice-overs or titles, so what’s happening isn’t always clear, which helps prevent the filmmaker–and us–from drawing easy conclusions. Her images of India are so varied that they’re almost incomprehensibly mysterious, making me want to go there more than any conventional travel film has. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22, 8:00, 384-5533.

–Fred Camper