Hot Docs: Memoirs of the Plague [2010, Robert Nugent]

Toronto – If you enjoy extremely long nature shots, scenes without context, subtitle inconsistencies and random character testimonials, then surely you will enjoy Memoirs of the Plague. If you don’t enjoy those things, then you may take issues with this documentary. Written and directed by Robert Nugent, Memoirs of the Plague is a documentary about locusts and how different communities from around the world take action against the inevitable locust swarm that happen every so often. The documentary primarily focuses on people from Australia, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Starting off with archival footage about the locust war, Memoirs of the Plague tries to paint the battle with these insects as a mythical and timeless affair. The narrator also asks in his breathy sex voice some rhetorical question that tries to tie the battle with the insects to a more metaphorical battle with ourselves. Some grade A philosophy class stuff there. We are then taken to Ethiopia to meet a pesticide pilot in charge of spraying crops. He spends most of his time in the film either sitting around or fixing his plane. While his English accent isn’t terrible, he is subtitled, but only occasionally.

Since this is an Australian film, we are taken to Australia to see how ranchers and farmers in Australia deal with the impending swarm. It is here we meet a series of random characters, doing things that are never explained and then barely introduced to the audience before they give a testimonial. These characters are never seen again, leaving you with a “what was that about?” train of thought. This is a train of thought that permeates the entire documentary, which seems to have scattered about many nature shots just for sake of cinematography with no real fluidity between scenes, creating a chaotic smorgasbord of wtf moments.

The 77 minute film finally reaches its climax with about ten minutes to go, showing the swarm as they invade cities, villages and other locales. While the sheer number of locusts was amazing, there were no aftermath shots to see farmlands destroyed, or crops cleared out or anything of the sort leaving you to think they are more of a nuisance then a plague.

A few positives of the documentary would include some stunning footage of locusts, which was shot in 1000x magnification. These shots make the locust seem like rather innocent, cute creatures. Perhaps this was done to downplay the plague, I’m not sure. The score for this documentary was nicely done as well. Besides that, I struggle to find any positives. I would only recommend this film if locusts are of an absolute interest, and also I would warn that there are some potentially graphic images in this film.

Wed, May 4 9:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Fri, May 6 4:00 PM @ Cumberland 3

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs

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Britpop lovin Chinaman, consumer of all things irrelevant. Toronto Raptors fan.