If you saw “Fire in the Mountains” at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, you’ve likely thought about it since. And if you didn’t, this debut feature from Ajitpal Singh may still yet burrow under your skin: Kino Lorber is releasing the film later this spring, including at New York City’s Film Forum.
Singh is a self-taught filmmaker who’d made only one short before making the leap to this feature, which debuted in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. “Fire in the Mountains” is bursting with the feeling of a filmmaker who has something to share: a point of view, a dramatic setup, and a stunning series of landscapes that you haven’t seen before.
The film is set in Uttarakhand, the northern Indian province that edges into the Himalayas and features emerald hills, snow-capped peaks, and startlingly clear skies. You feel healthier just by looking at the place. That makes the situation of Chandra (Vinamrata Rai) all the more unfortunate: her son can’t walk, and the local doctor has no idea why. Her husband wants to turn to a Folk Hindu ritual, a Jagar, to heal his son, thinking they must have offended a family deity.
Singh loosely based this story on a real family experience: a relation of his died after opting for a faith-healing solution instead of medical science. And in the film, Chandra’s husband has to raise a significant amount of money for the Jagar to happen, further imperiling the family’s prospects.
From IndieWire’s review of the film out of Sundance, this critic wrote, “Working toward the goal of increasing their coffers, the family goes about their daily lives, framed against the most stunning of backdrops. Singh and his cinematographer, French cinema workhorse Dominique Colin, present this hill community as if everything is slightly at an angle — and, well, it is. They use their frame dynamically, making sure you need to look up and down, rather than just side to side. One shot of the son in his wheelchair facing us in the foreground has a sudden interruption as a group of kids march on a hillside tier above him. This is living vertically.”
Since Sundance 2021, “Fire in the Mountains” has gone on to win the audience award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Kino Lorber releases the film on May 20, and you can watch the first trailer for the film, available exclusively on IndieWire, below.