February 28, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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The documentary genre of film is definitely a broad category. Documentaries can span from Michael Moore’s political statements, to Ken Burns’s PBS, to mockumentary comedies such as Spinal Tap and Best In Show. This week at Cornell Cinema, two entertaining films will be playing from opposite ends of the documentary spectrum that are certainly worth checking out.

Paper Clips

Paper Clips doesn’t showcase any new or exciting filmmaking. However, the story that it tells is so powerful, any tinkering with the subject would just seem trivial. The film follows the activities at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee. When a class decides to do a project on the Holocaust, the teachers have trouble conveying the scale of the genocide to an almost entirely white and protestant school population. Eventually the faculty decides to represent every life lost in the Holocaust by a paper clip, which Norwegians used to represent solidarity with the Jews during World War II, with the eventual goal of collecting nine million.

While the project starts slow, eventually it gains national and international attention. Paper clips start to pour into the small town from all over the world. What is most touching about the paper clips are the letters that often accompany the shipments. The letter contain words of hope from celebrities, memorials from relatives of victims and Germans asking for forgiveness for their actions. Eventually two German press correspondents arrange for an actual rail car that transported Holocaust victims to be moved to the school as a memorial. Paper Clips tells a heartwarming tale of regular (gasp! Red State) people performing an extraordinary task for the sole purpose of doing the right thing.

Incident at Loch Ness

Veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog and friends team up in Incident at Loch Ness to create a thrilling and at the same time hilarious mockumentary. The film is supposed to be a chronicle of Herzog’s life and how he will make a new documentary on the myth of the Loch Ness Monster. Accompanying him is varied film crew including a jerk producer, supermodel, a whacko zoologist, and the sane cinematographer and sound engineer who don’t know what to think is going on.

From the get go, the producer Zak Penn (played by Incident’s director) manages to screw up almost every imaginable aspect of the production. While Herzog is trying to create a film about how the myth of Nessie has evolved over the years, Penn tries to actually rig the film to prove that such a monster exists by creating cheap paper mache models of the monster. Everything goes wrong; the locals pick fights with the actors at bars, the boat doesn’t work, and nearly everybody wants to kill each other by the second day of filming. However, when the crew ends up stuck out in Loch Ness in the fog, something actually starts to attack the little boat. Is it Penn’s antics or is a real monster lurking in the water?

Incident at Loch Ness is nearly perfect in its delivery of dry comedy. And the scenes when the monster attacks surprisingly resemble moments from Jaws. Incident at Loch Ness is worth a view just to see actual filmmakers playing out their own special Punk’d on their audiences.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Sun Staff Writer