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EbertFest 2006  



Roger Ebert wrote about "Man Push Cart" from  Sundance:

PARK CITY, Utah On the last day of Sundance 2006, I  went to see one final film, named Man Push Cart. It was playing at 8:30 a.m. in the Prospector Square Theater, which is a large room filled with fairly comfortable folding chairs. The movie tells the story of a young man who was once a rock star in his native Pakistan, but now operates a stainless steel push cart on the streets of Manhattan, vending coffee, tea, muffins and bagels (You want ream cheese?).

The room was filled. In front of me were a woman from Ogden and her brother from Philadelphia. They said they attend Sundance to see films that are really about something. After Man Push Cart was over, they said they loved it. So did I. But I loved it not only for itself, but because of the conditions of its making. At the end of 10 days and hundreds of films and hype about movie stars and swag bags and midnight parties, this is what Sundance is really about: This man pushing this cart.

The movie was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, an American born in Iran. It stars Ahmad Razvi, an American born in Pakistan. It was shot in less than three weeks, on a small budget, with Bahrani grabbing a lot of his shots by filming from across the street.

There’s a scene where the hero, also named Ahmad, offers to sell some bootleg videos to a couple of guys loading merchandise. He says they’re $8 each, two for $15. I can get them for four bucks in Brooklyn, says one of the guys. This guy did not know he was in a film; Bahrani got him to sign a release so he could keep the scene. As for (the real) Ahmad, when he was not acting he was working on locations and continuity. Everybody on the film worked on everything.

Ahmad (the character) is a sad man whose wife has died and whose in-laws will not let him see his son. His career as a singing star is long forgotten. He gets up at three every morning, stocks his cart, and pulls it through the streets. He makes friends with a Spanish woman who is filling in for a relative at a nearby magazine stand. She likes him. But can he see a future for himself?

Bahrani said one of the inspirations for his film was The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. That’s the story of a man who spends his life rolling a heavy rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down again. The life of Ahmad resembles the plight of Sisyphus. At the end of the film, we see him helping a friend pull a cart through the streets. Two Men Push Cart, I guess. Is this progress? Is it reason for hope?

It's almost impossible to convey the particular tone and effect of Man Push Cart. It is an experience, not a synopsis.  My purpose is to show that with very little money but a lot of effort, a director can push a movie all the way uphill to Sundance.  The director man may have been born in Iran and his star may be from Pakistan, but they are Americans, their film is mostly in English, it is entered in the American Spectrum section, and people from Ogden and Philadelphia come to see it because they hunger for such films. The whole experience contains the Sundance idea: Anyone can make a movie, and if it is good enough Sundance can help it find an audience. 

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