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March 8, 2010 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Land of the Long White Cloud

Film

Every year, a rag-tag group of people assemble on and around Ninety Mile Beach for the Snapper Classic, a five-day fishing competition in which the prize for the largest snapper caught is a cool $50,000. Patience and good humour are key to surviving the marathon fishing contest, and Florian Habicht’s latest documentary, Land of the Long White Cloud, captures that aspect of the competition perfectly. A spiritual successor to his 2004 documentary Kaikohe Demolition, Land of the Long White Cloud takes a deftly funny, unerringly human approach to the Snapper Classic and the people competing in it, offering a window into the lives and philosophies of the competitors with a reverence for the voices it documents.

Habicht’s interviewing style is what makes his documentaries interesting. As preoccupied with the thoughts of his subjects as he is with why they’re in front of his camera in the first place, Habicht posits peculiar questions to these recreational fishermen—Do fish have feelings? Is there an afterlife? Do you watch the news?—and lets them reply without interruption. It gives rise to some scintillating stream-of-consciousness answers from the competitors, be those answers inspirational (the tale of the eight-year catch-free streak of one participant), enlightening (a widowed man on a bike’s ruminations on love and marriage) or bizarre (one young fisherman’s allegations of a giant conspiracy theory involving Bill Gates and ‘water cars’). Their worldviews are oddly fascinating given how normal they are, and it’s a testament to Habicht’s skills as a documentarian that the talking heads never lapse into just being that. These people are living, breathing heads with bodies and existences outside of this film.

There are a few hiccups in Habicht’s overall style. While he undoubtedly captures some sublime imagery of Ninety Mile Beach—it’s hard not to be wowed by the beach beset by a storm, or by the final sequence—Habicht occasionally lets his indulgences run free. As such, we are treated to some superfluous, overlong musical interludes that break the film’s flow unnecessarily, and the film becomes progressively flabby as it moves towards the finale. However, Habicht is a solid, interesting documentarian, and Land of the Long White Cloud is a great testament to his ability to find fascination in the most regular people.

Land of the Long White Cloud
Director: Florian Habicht

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