Valley of Saints
A summertime destination since the Mughal emperors ruled the Indian subcontinent, Dal Lake has been called the Venice of Asia. Tucked in the Kashmir Valley and fed by the surrounding snow-capped Himalayas, it boasts a network of floating gardens, ancient Sufi ruins, and ornate houseboats built during the British Raj. The local community of fishermen and farmers increasingly relies on tourism to earn a living. But the lake is shrinking and the water polluted, threatening not only livelihoods but also lives. Shot during the 2010 mass protests calling for the demilitarization of Kashmir, Musa Syeed's feature film debut narrows in on Gulzar, a boatman, and his childhood friend Afzal, planning their escape to New Delhi. When a military-imposed curfew delays their departure, they encounter a young visiting scientist (played by Kashmiri TV actress Neelofar Hamid) who is studying the environmental impact of urbanization on the lake. With a cast dominated by nonprofessional actors and set against real-time events, Valley of Saints feels as much like a documentary as fiction, bearing intimate witness to a world on the cusp of change while slowly revealing how that change, even as it is propelled by disaster, also holds promise.