Slamdance Film Festival
Dir: CJ Gardella
Documentary film can be one of the most powerful of the cinematic genres. Its most useful tools being: story, advocacy, information, and realistic cinematography. "Shunka" seems to lack all but the latter. If viewed less as a documentary and more as a visual tone poem, it succeeds marvelously. And if you’d like to think non-fiction movies should only be about pretty pictures and beautiful transitions stop reading right this immediately. The subjects of the film include hundreds of bugs/animals (seemingly half a film’s worth) and four different groups of people in the Dakotas, including: a hokey paranormal communicator, a group of Native Americans, white transplants, and an old cowboy/recreational fisherman. The bugs and animals, fodder for the magnifying power of good HD lenses, serve as eye candy filler in between un-narrated bits of the aforementioned human subjects. It seems the animals’ and bugs’ meanderings/aerials are meant to imply humanity/life as they are intercut with intimate shots of human faces. Instead, they appear even more alien magnified hundreds of times, showing differences almost too big to ignore. The most interesting of the characters, the paranormal communicator, helps open the film and makes a much more compelling subject than the others. Her character begs several questions (how anyone could actually ever believe her act, being one) and almost demands further investigation into her delusions. The prarie vistas are magnificent and well framed, the score appropriate, and the technology wonderful. The director has a powerful future ahead of him if he channels a little more direction. As a work of art, this film is priceless. As a piece of documentary storytelling, it is a bit off.