Jennifer Baichwal Documents Lightning in Act of God

Jennifer Baichwal follows up her superb 2007 documentary Manufactured Landscapes, about the willful harm done to nature by man, with another in which the damage is reversed and random. It’s hard to imagine a more biblically cinematic threat—or one more fraught with potential for banal philosophizing—than lightning. The visually attuned Baichwal fully exploits nature’s drama as she probes the impact of devastating lightning attacks on the lives of a few strategically chosen reflective types who survived or witnessed severe electrical storms. Inevitably, the experience intensified their search for meaning: The artists got artier (novelist Paul Auster wrote it into his fiction, experimental guitarist Fred Frith improvised a lightning storm); the scientists got more rational (Frith’s brother measured his brain activity while strumming); and the believers in a South American village, where five children were killed at a stroke, deepened their faith. From a metaphysical standpoint, none of this is shattering news, which may be why Baichwal falls back on ceremonial storm footage and awed blow-by-blow survivor accounts of how it felt to be struck or to be spared while others died around them. Baichwal is the least judgmental of interviewers, which is a double-edged sword when the solemn testimony (“I had come to meet me”) induces a barely resistible urge to laugh.

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