Son of a Lion (2007)

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Released 6-May-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Deleted Scenes
Booklet-PDF Study Guide
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Madman Propaganda
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 92:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Benjamin Gilmour
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Niaz Khan Shinwari
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Amanda Brown


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Were it not for the Film Australia logo snuck into the opening credits it would be difficult for the casual viewer to know that this gentle drama, of a young boy in Northern Pakistan yearning to go to school, had anything at all to do with the Great Southern Land.

To all intents and purposes Son of a Lion looks and feels like an authentic film from Pakistan, steeped in the local rituals but also spoken in the Pashto dialect of the region. In fact, the film came about due to the efforts and interest of Australian director Benjamin Gilmour who wanted to make a film about the Muslim warriors of Northern Pakistan that would redress the imbalance of negative stereotypes of these proud people. Somewhere along the line he dumped his script and, living in and amongst the local people, put this little film together. The result is a direct and at times moving film.

Eleven year old Niaz lives in the town of Darra in North West Pakistan not far from the border with Afghanistan. This is, to be plain, Bin Laden country and initial impressions of the film do nothing to diminish the ferocious reputation of the inhabitants. Darra is a town with one prime economic base - the manufacture of weapons. Niaz's father, Sher Alam, is a weapons manufacturer and Niaz is destined to follow in the family tradition. Sher is proud of his fighting lineage and he himself fought off the Russians in the beautiful but rugged local terrain. His mother having died some years ago Niaz has only his father to look to for day to day guidance. Sher teaches him how to make weapons and how to shoot them.

Niaz has an uncle who was exiled to the town of Kohat, some distance away, for a tragic accident many years earlier. Freed from the Darra armament imperative the uncle is keenly aware that Niaz yearns for better things starting with an education. The central story of the film is the attempt to convince the very stubborn Sher that his son deserves an education. Sher is incredulous - after all neither he nor his father went to school. They all made guns. Sher is also of strong faith and deplores the relaxed attitude he believes education applies to the strict moral code he lives by. Dancing and singing are frowned upon although he, like many in the town, enjoys his hashish!

Son of a Lion is undoubtedly a little film. Although the abundance of freely available high powered weaponry points towards a bloodbath conclusion, director Gilmour is not at all interested in pushing forward the stereotype of gunmakers being irresponsible gun users. This is a family drama, think Yentyl without the songs!

The filming took place in Darra itself which justly has a reputation as being one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Gilmour and his very small crew lived in Darra for some time filming only when it was safe to do so. Niaz is played by the son of one of the Executive Producers. Sher is a former soldier who was injured in the war with the Russians. Both are not great actors but they give honest performances without a trace of pretension or coaching. The hillside of Northern Pakistan make a great backdrop for this very human story.

Son of a Lion is definitely worth a watch though drama lovers who like the tempo brisk may find it a little static.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Son of a Lion was shot on digital video and transferred to 35mm film for cinematic showing. The original aspect ratio was 1.85:1 and the transfer preserves that ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

This is a fine transfer of this film. There are problems with the DVD but I suspect that these have little to do with the authoring of the transfer and much to do with the original medium. Watching the Behind the Scenes makes it abundantly clear that oily rag doesn't even come close to the budgetary and other limitations imposed on the filming process. Frequently the crew were forced to work on the fly to dodge the authorities and others. Set-ups were improvised and lighting equipment hand made. The result is a film with an acceptable though lo-fi look. There is abundant noise, particularly in the night scenes, the colours are not particularly well separated and the flesh tones waver slightly. Compression problems appear in the blue sky moments. Again I suspect these derived from the transfer to 35mm film and back again.

The film has subtitles burned into the print.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   Son of a Lion features a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack in the Pashtu language.

This is an intimate film which probably would not have benefited from a more expansive sound mix. The dialogue is clear and appears to be in audio sync.

The music for the film is traditional regional songs and sounds. The best compliment that can be paid to former Go-Between Amanda Brown who composed the music for the film is that nothing sounds out of place to the locale.

There are no technical flaws in the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The DVD contains a good selection of extras.

Commentary Track

The track features Gilmour as well as Niaz and his father, an executive producer and "fixer" for the film. It is an enjoyable affair as every scene has its own story and own difficulties. For example the scenes in the hash shop had to be filmed quickly as there appeared to be some unwelcome interest being shown by some locals. The shop, we're told, is now shut down by order of the Taliban.

Niaz and his father both speak excellent, if heavily accented, English. Niaz remembers where he cut his foot and the director Gilmour's training as a paramedic saved the day! There is pause to reflect when we are told that the village where the filming took place was was bombed by helicopter gunship not so long ago. The director is kind enough to tell us the flaws in the shoot and the occasional moments when the boom mike appears in shot!

Indispensable listening for fans of the film.

Behind the Scenes (17.00)

This is about as Behind the Scenes as you get. This reasonable length featurette shows the work that went into bringing this project together from the meetings in Australia to the time spent living in the Darra region trying to shoot the film on the fly. It shows the trials and tribulations of working with an amateur cast, although Niaz has some pretty big tabs on himself! Seeing alfoil wrapped night lights, a cameraman filming from the boot of a car and an actor holding a sound boom brings home how low budget yet enterprising the film was to shoot.

Deleted Scenes (6.34)

There are 5 Deleted Scenes included on the DVD. Bar one they feature secondary characters and were probably deleted for time and flow. One scene has Niaz and Sher together looking at a childhood photo of Niaz taken in a bunny suit! It introduces some warmth and humour into the father son relationship. No doubt the director felt that it would undermine the drama of the piece to show a soft side of Sher.

Study Guide

This guide may be accessed from your PC as a PDF file. It contains a nice analysis of the film and a series of questions and topics for school discussion.

Theatrical Trailer (1.55)

The trailer sums up the story pretty well.

Madman Propaganda

The usual slew of trailers for similarly themed films. The Boy Who Play on the Buddhas of Bamiyam, Ushpizin, Baran as well as Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   This DVD is only available in Region 4.

Summary

   Son of a Lion may not break any new ground in terms of its themes - the story is universal. However, in transplanting that story from the urban first world to the rugged, unforgiving landscape of Northern Pakistan director Gilmour has created something fresh, new and eminently watchable.

That the look ands sound of the DVD is average is merely a reflection of the difficult filmmaking conditions. For evidence of these difficulties just turn to the extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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