BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM asks film programmer Richard King about the documentaries showing at this year’s WOMAD.

WHILE WOMAD is known for its music and dance, there is a little growing aspect of the festival which might interest audiences heading up to the Festival in New Plymouth. Programmed by Richard King, a former programmer of the New Zealand International Film Festivals, WOMAD also presents a number of musical-themed documentaries for those who want to get away from the music for a little bit. King says “it was never going to be a big thing. Last year was the first year. But some people like to chill out and sit under a tree and watch a film and have a space away from everything. Last year it was so low-key. A lot of people aren’t going to go to WOMAD to watch films.”

Located in the Pinetree Stage, the films have a few limitations in terms of screening. “It has to be dark, so we can’t start before 7.30 at the earliest.” Furthermore, “because WOMAD is programmed in one hour bits things have to be less than hour. If it’s more than an hour long you clash with the music, so that means a lot of things aren’t available. That is often an issue. Because there are things that would be perfect to go but we can’t screen them because they’d be too long. Or we’d have to screen them late.” This means it is difficult for King to get films he’d like to broadcast. “A little bit hard. They don’t need to be brand-new. It’s hard to track things down. Often there are things you saw on TV, people own the rights. Sometimes things are just too expensive, they want to charge you three or four euros, which is ridiculous on today’s exchange rate. And, for a thing like this where the main part of the budget is spent on the artists.” King adds “I’m always open to people suggesting things that might work. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘world music’. It could be something else that feels right.”

That said, the programme features some intriguing work. Sufi’s Soul, a documentary made for TV shows the celebratory side of Islamic worship, the side that is rarely displayed in Western media. “Someone discovered it on a world music website and I tracked it down ages ago. It’s really interesting.” Sufism is “just the idea of God coming from within, from the way they express themselves.” The documentary looks at Sufism in Islamic cultures and its musical and cultural traditions, which allow artists to “clear your mind and express your love of God through dance and music.”

Another highlight could be Sleep Walking Through the Mekong featuring the American/Cambodian band Dengue Fever who are also playing in the festival. In the film, the band travel back to Cambodia, play versions of ’60s and ’70s Cambodian pop back to the original audiences. “The idea of an American group deciding to do Cambodian music from the ’60s and ’70s has a pretty specific groove to it. The Cambodian woman who sings with them, she’s reconnecting with this music and people are amazed that Americans are playing this. You wonder how it’s perceived over there, whether it’s perceived as really kitsch. If a bunch of Cambodians came over here and performed Beatles songs would they be seen as kitsch?”

There’s a strong Loop connection present too, and the Wellington label has provided a number of music videos and documentaries like OE Brazil to be broadcast. Rhian Sheehan also has a documentary Standing in Silence, which King says is a bit like popular docos Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi and was filmed in India and China. King says “I’ve heard great things about it.”

The directors of last year’s 1 Giant Leap, have another film being broadcast, What About Me?. Featuring figures such as Billy Connelly, Tim Robbins and Stephen Fry, and made by former Faithless member Jamie Catto, and Duncan Bridgeman, the film is “basically they go to a lot of different countries with a bit of a drum riff and get the musicians to add onto it based on it, so they’ve edited this whole seamless flow of these different cultures. It’s very WOMAD. It’s really great how they do it.”

And while many will be going to WOMAD to soak up all the great music, there’s plenty of other audio-visual stimuli for the audience. And if you feel like checking out a film, getting away from the music for a wee bit, head over to the Pinetree stage for a bit of cinema under the trees and night sky.