I’ve been wandering in and out of a lot of theater spaces this week (and bars where art- and theater-makers cavort into the morning hours). This is the norm for me during Fusebox: to be entertained and challenged, sometimes annoyed, and eventually worn out by the many different arts and artists being showcased. Least on my mind and low on my expectations was A Survey Of Open Space. My arguments to avoid it seemed reasonable:
· It’s a film. I can see that anytime, at least eventually
· It’s about a long road trip on bicycles. Not so into Discovery Channel at this time
· It features my friend and bandmate Zach Hall, who already told me some stories about the trip, so I figured I vicariously “got” what the movie offered
· It’s probably not of the same entertaining and challenging caliber that marks a good portion of the festival (who’s even gonna show up to watch it?)
So how did this end up being one of my favorite things to see?
Filmed and edited by Peat Duggins, A Survey of Open Space is a compelling documentary of three brave bicyclists’ trek from the southern tip of Texas to the north of Alaska. While perhaps purporting to showcase the neglected or ignored natural expanse of America—contrasted or forgotten by it’s modern industry and societal need for speed—I found the real interest here was the simple humor, determination, and wonder of the two featured characters, Zach and Michaela (named throughout the film only as the director’s “friend” and “sister”). The director is left out of the picture, yet imparts a good deal of information about the challenges and purpose of the journey and film in his gentle narration. As the 4000 miles unfold, we witness his friend and sister pack, unpack, pedal, repair, repose, laugh, cry, and display a rugged and brave humanness that’s both delightful and engaging to watch. Interestingly, many of the adventures are left to one’s imagination, as they’re recounted in retrospect from a hotel room or campground: a strange character met on the road, a frightful encounter with nature. The actual footage of biking is kept to a minimum, which is a smart if not obvious choice (during a post viewing Q&A, it was revealed that this was a lesson learned in the editing). Further elucidating the navigation of the trip and the tools of the trade are some clever and well-placed animations created by Mr. Duggins. You can see some of his sketchbooks about the trek here.
A Survey of Open Space gave me a lot to chew on about travel, and about what we leave behind, what we take with us, and what we stand to gain in this big world and short life. It also made me very hungry! I did not, however, incur any envy about taking such a trip in such a manner, though I will remain in awe of the people who made it. Which is more than I can say for some of the “art” I’ve been taking in.