Beginning with near-microscopic views of insects, ending with a slo-mo hummingbird against a Beethoven piano sonata, and packing some eccentric folks in between, CJ Gardella’s “Shunka” is a lyrical nonfiction feature that observes animal and human life, with no differentiation, in South Dakota’s Badlands. Gardella’s visually and aurally stunning film stumbles through bits of woozy mysticism, stylistic repetition and a few too many postcard-pretty shots, but the final impact is of a Whitmanesque poem put onscreen, certain to make fest programmers, and just maybe a cult following, swoon.
Gardella and co-lensers Andrew Brinkman and Corey Gegner seem to crawl through the grass to capture the hidden insect life of the Badlands, while roaming the jagged landscape of buttes and meadows with bison herds, human families and a retired Army vet who loves to philosophize. Always unidentified so as to equate them with the critters, the people range from a native American family to a female mystic who investigates ghost visitations in homes. Gardella’s remarkable editing transforms these fragments into a mesmerizing collage of life on a corner of the planet. Rich music selections include Bach, Gorecki and Bjork.