Tempting fate

While making a documentary about the utterly random nature of lightning strikes, acclaimed filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal took a calculated risk as she tried to capture as much storm footage as possible.

Act of God filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal.

TORONTO — While making a documentary about the utterly random nature of lightning strikes, acclaimed filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal took a calculated risk as she tried to capture as much storm footage as possible.

Shooting for her latest project, Act of God, typically involved Baichwal and her cinematographer-husband Nick de Pencier standing in an open field next to a metal tripod as deadly electrical shocks darted from the sky.

“We carried the camera around with us for two years and everytime there was a storm, we’d go outside,” says Baichwal, whose film opens the Hot Docs festival Thursday.

“Sometimes the kids were in a cabin and we were saying, ‘OK, we’ll be back in 10 minutes.’ And then I would kind of look at our situation — here we are in an open place, with a metal tripod and there’s lightning coming down all around us. (I’d say), ‘We can’t both die, I’m going inside.’ ”

Luck was definitely on their side, however, and Baichwal’s resulting examination of nature’s quintessential example of randomness is charged with miraculous and horrifying stories from real-life survivors and their elusive search for meaning.

Central to Baichwal’s approach are questions of chance, fate and mortality. Act of God, steers clear of any scientific explanations behind the sometimes deadly phenomenon, focusing instead on the metaphysical. Baichwal calls it “an anti-science film about lightning.”

“Lightning is this perfect metaphor for the intersection of meaning and randomness and you could almost say that it is the paradox of being singled out by randomness,” says Baichwal, whose celebrated 2006 film Manufactured Landscapes profiled photographer Edward Burtynsky and his chronicle of the hyper-industrialization of China.

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