×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Herd

Peter Lynch's follow-up to "Project Grizzly," a smash hit by Canadian standards, is an intriguing dud. The helmer has an expert nose for oddities of northern life and history, and he's done yeoman work researching and assembling strange Arctic events of the Depression era. The result, which combines archival footage with staged sequences, is too arcane, and too diffusely presented, to stand much chance of heading south, either in theatrical or tube settings.

Peter Lynch’s follow-up to “Project Grizzly,” a smash hit by Canadian standards, is an intriguing dud. The helmer has an expert nose for oddities of northern life and history, and he’s done yeoman work researching and assembling strange Arctic events of the Depression era. The result, which combines archival footage with staged sequences, is too arcane, and too diffusely presented, to stand much chance of heading south, either in theatrical or tube settings.

The project — a major undertaking for the struggling National Film Board — has a fascinating premise: In 1929, the Canadian government hired a sixtysomething Laplander named Andrew Bahr to run a few thousand reindeer from Alaska to the McKenzie River area, ostensibly to feed starving Inuit. The project took six years to traverse only 1,500 miles and caused considerable enmity amongst bureaucrats, businessman and the herders themselves.

Perhaps there was a more cost-effective solution, but the tactical options — including an inexplicable decision to take the herd over a treacherous mountain pass in the dead of winter — aren’t explained here. Instead, we get a panoply of pic-making styles.

First, there’s monochrome newsreel footage of reindeer herds; then, a diary-reading voiceover from Graham Greene while a different actor (Doug Lennox) portrays Bahr onscreen; finally, there a number of tight-suited people (including ubiquitous Canucks Don McKellar and David Hemblen) talking to the camera in cramped, dark-brown settings. The effect is something like watching a parade of government-sponsored Heritage Minutes — or an “SCTV” spoof of same.

Not that Lynch’s truth-based approach is devoid of humor. Funniest are bits with former “SNL”-er Mark McKinney (brother to co-scripter Nicholas McKinney) as a businessman who keeps sending wacky promotional ideas to the expedition. And the helmer is well aware of the absurdity of what’s being depicted, especially when the seemingly crazed mission is contrasted with static tableaux involving Ottawa bureaucrats from the Inter-Departmental Reindeer Sub-Committee who are busy weighing the political considerations.

Tale’s central dramatic conflict, though, a sustained antagonism between the easygoing Lapp herder and hard-nosed Danish naturalist Erling Porsild (Colm Feore), doesn’t have much impact, largely because the men never meet onscreen, and we have only Porsild’s stuffy monologues and Bahr’s disembodied narration to go by.

Better are sidebars from Peter Wood (Dennis Allen), a First Nations guide who eventually gets worn out by the squabbling, and by Bahr’s occasionally bizarre hesitations. (At one point, the leader takes off for six months to round up some strays.)

A general sense of fruitless adventure pervades the pic itself; by the time Lynch starts tossing in newsreel footage of Hitler’s brownshirts and an early-‘ 30s New Year’s Eve on Times Square, it becomes all too easy to lose any grasp of what “The Herd” is about.

Similarly, Ken Myhr’s moody, piano-based score is initially interesting, but the minor-key noodlings — much like Michael Nyman redoing the “Twin Peaks” theme — soon seem out of tonal proportion to the chilly, arm’s-length proceedings. Other tech aspects are good, but effective only for auds actively seeking bleak ironies of the most elusive stripe.

Popular on Variety

The Herd

(DOCUDRAMA -- CANADIAN)

Production: A National Film Board/Ontario Centre production. Produced by Peter Starr. Executive producers, Louise Lore. Directed by Peter Lynch. Screenplay, Lynch, Nicholas McKinney.

Crew: Camera (color) , Rudolf Blahacek; editor, Caroline Christie; music, Ken Myhr; production designer, Susan Young; sound (Dolby), Alison Clark, Daniel Pellerin; associate producer, Hadley Obodiac. Reviewed at Pacific Cinematech, Vancouver, Sept. 8, 1998. (In Vancouver Film Festival; Toronto Film Festival --- Perspective Canada.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With: With: Colm Feore, David Hemblen, Mark McKinney, Don McKellar, Jim Allodi, Dennis Allen, Doug Lennox and the voice of Graham Greene.

More Film

  • La Rouei

    Lumiere Festival to Premiere Epic Restoration of 'La Roue'

    LYON, France  —  This coming Saturday and Sunday, the Lumière Festival will turn back the clock nearly one hundred years as the festival premieres a new completed reconstruction of Abel Gance’s 1923 masterpiece “La Roue” (“The Wheel”) that restores the classic to its original 7.5 hour length. Consisting of a prologue and four movements, “La [...]

  • Lina Wertmuller portrait

    Lina Wertmuller’s Exceptional Career Revisited

    In the still American-led realm of the Academy Awards, it’s unusual for the helmer of a film not in the English language to score a Best Director nomination. It’s far rarer still, meanwhile, for a woman to be nominated in the category at all: just five have done so in 91 years. Only one director, [...]

  • Fifth Seal

    Lumière Festival Honors Hungary, Screens Classics ‘Women,’ ‘The Fifth Seal’

    For the fifth year running, Lyon’s Lumière Festival will honor Hungarian cinema and invite guests of the Hungarian National Film Fund to present two classic Hungarian films from important national filmmakers, Márta Mészáros’ “Ők ketten” (“Women”) and Zoltán Fábri’s “Fifth Seal.” Both films will be presented by Lumière Festival special guest Marina Vlady on Oct [...]

  • Godzilla

    Criterion Collection President Peter Becker on Storytelling, Bergman vs Godzilla, B-movies

    LYON, France  —  The Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) kicked off on Tuesday in Lyon, France, with a keynote address by Criterion Collection President Peter Becker. The exec discussed the company’s storied history and evolution over the decades into a leading publisher of classic and contemporary films from around the world in high-quality [...]

  • Manuel Chiche

    Boutique Distributor Manuel Chiche Offers A State of The Industry

    LYON, France  — Manuel Chiche is riding high. Since June, his boutique distribution outlet The Jokers set admission records with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” selling nearly 1.7 million tickets in France and still going strong as the film heads into its 19th week in theaters. Indeed, “Parasite” is now the second most successful Palme d’Or winner of [...]

  • Toni

    Italy’s L'Immagine Ritrovata Expected to Take Over France’s Eclair Cinema

    LYON, France  —  Leading Italian restoration company L’Immagine Ritrovata’s acquisition of renowned film lab Eclair Cinéma, announced last month, is expected to be approved by the French Commercial Court of Nanterre at the end of November or beginning of December, according to a source familiar with the deal. L’Immagine Ritrovata’s French subsidiary, L’Image Retrouvée, last [...]

  • Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

    Film Review: 'Jay and Silent Bob Reboot'

    In a film culture overrun by Marvel epics, wild-stunt action flicks, and other grandiose juvenilia, it is often said that the mid-budget, script-driven movie for adults is becoming a thing of the past. But don’t tell that to Kevin Smith, whose “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” a shaggy antic throwaway that premiered Tuesday in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content