Canadian helmer Peter Lynch’s “A Whale of a Tale” uses his obsessive search for the origins of a wayward whale bone as a hook on which to hang a wide-ranging personal essay that’s equal parts scholarship, sleuthing and wild-goose-chase. Amusingly anecdotal, if sometimes meandering, item could snag offshore broadcast gigs after fest touring.
While working on a dramatic script, Lynch became fascinated by the news story that inspired it: the 1988 discovery of a whale vertebrae in freshwater Toronto Harbor, 1,200 baffling miles from the ocean. At first, the bone was thought prehistoric, upending long-held assumptions about the region’s ecological past. But later testing suggested (albeit inconclusively) that it might be much less ancient — perhaps only part of a whale exhibited by a P.T. Barnum-type showman 150 years ago. Pursuing vague leads regarding the bone’s origin and genus, Lynch roams from a Pennsylvania sideshow convention to a Vancouver Island bone collector’s stead and places in between. Colorful characters, surprising factoids and the director’s fear he’s taken his quest too far render this crisply lensed doc an amusing road trip.