Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, directed by Brad Bernstein, is one of the best documentaries I've seen this year and an early but legitimate contender for my favorite film of #TIFF12.
Ungerer is a man who is difficult to define. Award-winning children's book writer? Check. Political cartoonist? Check. Advertiser? At one time. Erotic illustrator? Yep. French? German? Alsatian? The beauty of this film exists in the exact point at which all of these things meet, in both conflict and perfect compliment of one another.
Watching this movie was an emotional experience for me. The hairs on my arms stood on end and in fact tears rolled down my face during completely unexpected/inexplicable scenes - not because the story was sad (though it surely was impactful in parts) but because I was completely overstimulated and a reaction needed to pour out of me in some way.
As odd as it is, as I watched Far Out Isn't Far Enough, I kept thinking about one of my favorite films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and how both of these movies, though completely different in so many ways, had in common the focus on duality and identity. The thought of straddling two opposite cultures, worlds, states of being, whatever, and tapping into that to fuel this electric creative output.
It felt like every corner of my brain was abuzz. Reaching capacity. I developed a headache about ten minutes in that did not go away, but I didn't really care. I was cursing myself for not bringing a notebook because every five seconds, something was said that I was dying to jot down, or something occurred to me that I knew I would not remember later.
There was no part of this film that was not masterful. I feel like I could gush for paragraphs about each element. The fascinating subject. The narrative structure including the chapters / title cards with Tomi-isms. The perfect way the film paired Tomi's personal and artistic development against the backdrop of the ever changing cultural and political histories of Europe and the United States. THE ARTWORK ITSELF. The use in the film of inventive animation of Tomi's work, integrated so brilliantly that when it was discussed during the Q&A, I found myself surprised that it was actually commissioned and created by a third party, not something that just magically leaped out of the camera like an aria spilling out of the mouth of an opera singer.
My mind was racing as I watched, unable to quantify what I loved more - this quirky, devious, honest and fallible yet brilliant artist, the delightfully creative telling of his story, or the simple fact that I was lucky enough to be sitting here in Toronto, Canada being exposed to it. Introduced to a life I had never given another thought to. To a man I'm sure I could have happily lived the rest of my life not knowing about, yet whose wit, courage and introspection on identity will likely inspire me for a long time.
What a cliche to call a work of art an inspiration. But this movie itself energized me. As I watched, I entertained fantasies of quitting my job and dedicating my waking hour to consuming more documentary film. I lamented my own creative inabilities, juxtaposed with my great belief that more movies like this need to be made and seen by others. Not for their ability to energize the masses to rally around a cause, although agenda documentaries have their place and I appreciate that. But rather, for what they leave for generations of artists (and connoisseurs like me) whose knowledge of Ungerer's contributions might either be nil or limited to a chapter in a textbook, or a few wikipedia characters.
For that reason, and this may sound ridiculous, it occurred to me while I was watching that these filmmakers are doing God's work. If such a thing existed. Or, so to speak. It reminded me that there's a constant and emergent need for more art to be funded, cultivated and consumed. And seeing the Kickstarter "thank yous" in the credits made me so impatient for what I can only imagine is many more masterpieces hidden amongst the sea of projects seeking support online, eagerly awaiting their chance to come into being.
It's a great time to love documentary film.