Review: ‘Divining Mom’

George Kachadorian's non-fiction debut film, "Divining Mom," connects with auds in a different way than was originally envisioned. Conceived as a look at dowsing, the ancient practice of using divining rods to locate underground water, doc evolves into an amusing work as it pits the views of science and religion against each other.

Almost by accident, George Kachadorian’s impressive non-fiction debut film, “Divining Mom,” connects with auds in a different way than was originally envisioned. First conceived as a look at dowsing, the ancient practice of using divining rods to locate underground water, doc evolves into an amusing work of dialectical cinema as it pits the views of science and religion against each other. The key to pic’s success is that the debate is personalized and played out between Kachadorian’s own parents. Sleeper status on the fest circuit should build with positive word-of-mouth and critical support.

Kachadorian’s mother, Lea, is widely in demand as a dowser, but the amusing first impression left by the film is that just about every other Vermonter is also wandering around with a diving rod in his hands.

One of them, pig farmer Jim Linn, describes matter-of-factly how he successfully dowsed for a well for his new farm and has been water-self-sufficient ever since. Other vet dowsers make it clear that they know it works — even if they don’t know how it works.

Film divines its way into this subculture that is so old it’s depicted in cave paintings, but also is malleable to different cultures and generations. Thus, the current American practice is roughly divided between rural oldsters, who treat it in non-nonsense fashion, and younger urbanite New Agers, who incorporate dowsing into a larger spiritual philosophy.

Detractors are led by the indefatigable James “the Amazing” Randi, a former pro magician who has long been on the warpath against quackery and paranormal claims that can’t be scientifically proved. Though Kachadorian develops an editorial strategy of posing a debate between belief and demands for analytic proof, it isn’t hard to sense that his heart is with the dowsers.

The beauty of “Divining Mom” is that all of this back-and-forth chatter is sure to set off some spirited debates, with advocates of both positions feeling that pic best props up their side. This feeling stems from the ongoing argument between Lea and filmmaker’s father Jim. Latter argues, not as a scientist but as a practical New Englander, that dowsing is mostly a waste of time. Lea says that dowsing makes her happy.

Low-grade vid lensing is less of a distraction than some irksome music on the soundtrack that tries to be funny.

Divining Mom

Production

A 62 Knots production. Produced by Courtney Bent, George Kachadorian. Directed, edited by George Kachadorian.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Kachadorian; music, the Bo and Like Duke Memorial Orchestra, Parker Bent; sound, Kachadorian. Reviewed on videotape, L.A., March 30, 2003. (In Full Frame Documentary Film Festival ----competing, and New York Independent Film and Video Festival.) Running time: 71 MIN.

With

Lea Kachadorian, Jim Kachadorian, Jim Linn, James "the Amazing" Randi, Ted Kaufman, Paul Sevigny, Joe Nickell, Edith Lincoln, Russel Targ, Ken Bannister, Ray Hyman, Merrell Nelson, Dean Brown, Cassie Epstein.
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