Act Of God

Year: 2009
Production Co: Zeitgeist Film
Director: Jennifer Baichwal
Producer: Jennifer Baichwal

For a movie about people who've been struck by lighting, there's very little in it about people being struck by lightning. I have no idea what sort of mood director Jennifer Baichwal wanted for the film, but it seems to be one of avant-garde artistry rather than informative reportage.

The film presents a handful of people whose lives have been touched by lightning strikes, either personally or having lost family and friends from them. There's a mother in Mexico who lost several children when lightning hit a cross on top of a mountain, a writer who got stuck in a storm as a boy scout and had no idea the lightning that hit a barbed wire fence he was crawling under killed another boy right next to him, a man who found some form of God after his experience, and more.

The film spends a good 15 minutes with each person, and whether Baichwal sought out the most enigmatic people she could find or she's just made it seem that way through editing isn't clear. None of them just sit down and calmly say 'I was standing here and I got hit here...' The film treats the event in each case as a monster hiding in a closet you just know is going to burst forth, taking its time telling the stories and highlighting the individual idiosyncrasies of each victim.

In one case, a guy whose outdoor work crew was hit in the forest somewhere in Canada runs through the trees, rolling all over the ground recreating the event excitedly like a little kid.

Each story is roughly broken up by grainy camcorder footage you've seen on YouTube if you've ever searched 'lightning', so if you're hoping for some of the urgency and tension the subject of the film seems to suggest, the shaky camerawork, sudden blasts of light and noise and exclamations of terror and surprise from the operators are the closest you'll get. The film features a lot of professional stock footage of storms and lightning strikes, but it's very distant and devoid of emotion.

I wanted something a bit more educational. I understand Baichwal wanted to take a metaphysical (almost spiritual) tack, and not to dismiss the suffering of the people affected under several tragic events, but I was left a bit cold.

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