Lost ConquestReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/04/15 14:59:02
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2015: The comedic documentary is not exactly rare, but it is generally reserved for people famous for being funny - after all, if something is funny, it is seldom considered important enough for a film that gets any sort of wide notice. That's unfortunate, because it means that "Lost Conquest" is a rarity - a film that is actually able to sneak an important idea into a group that might not otherwise consider it, while still being tremendously entertaining.The film begins with an a bit of text stating that Minnesota was the "Vinland" that Leif Ericsson discovered a thousand years ago, according to some, although with a bit more of a wink than that. The evidence is a stone tablet covered in runes discovered by farmer Olof Ohman around the turn off the twentieth century, and though its provenance is questionable at best, this has not stopped a number of museums housing it or and other supposed Norse artifacts from popping up, with the idea becoming as much a part of the region's identity as it is a cottage industry. Despite it generally being accepted in academic circles that the Vikings only made it as far as Canada's maritime provinces, could they have reached the Land of a Thousand Lakes?
Spoiler alert: Almost certainly not. It's a claim that writer/director Mike Scholtz could probably have demolished in quick, decisive, straight-faced fashion, but where would the fun be in that? Instead, he spends a great deal of time not just visiting the people who are only too happy to talk about it, but also looking at "Viking culture" in his home state, which includes a thriving group of enthusiasts and re-enactors, who are by and large a jovial group for whom he shows a great deal of fondness. Indeed, though there are moments when Scholtz's subjects seem to run the relatively short gamut from nerds to crackpots, it's almost unheard of for the tone to approach mockery; he may find them funny, but he doesn't want to point and laugh.
Of course, that does not mean that he and the rest of the filmmakers take things seriously; they have great fun with captioning the various talking heads and historical photographs or splashing chapter headings that function equally well as parody and an approximation of the earnest enthusiasm involved. Some bits are animated, but other scenes from this "history" are presented as re-enactments, only Scholtz and company shoot themselves shooting these scenes, and it's both an amusing bit of self-deprecating comedy and a genuine look at this thing as a hobby, and by having it be both, it feels a lot more friendly. This stuff may seem silly, but if it's useful this way, then it's not stupid.
That's the right attitude to have, because Scholtz and company are not really talking about whether or not Vikings really made it to the Midwest in the Eleventh Century. No, they're looking at how and why people believe things - that it is not always based upon evidence versus how good a story it makes, how well it fits other narratives, and the like. This becomes clear in the film's later segments, when the goofy-seeming conceit of interviewing the director's mother actually produces some of the most obvious friction of the film; confronted with evidence that runs contrary to their beliefs, people will ask the filmmakers why this matters and why they have to make waves. Dropping the word "stupid" into this sort of conversation seldom does anything but make people dig in, but sneaking up on the idea of why people believe things even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary may at least get them thinking about it.Some might even argue that this is what comedy is for, although I tend to think that laughing and learning something new are valuable enough on their own. "Lost Conquest" does an impressive job at all three, which is quite the hat trick. Just try not to be too disappointed when you find out that having horns on that hat is not strictly accurate.
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