Hot Docs: The Field of Magic

The Field of Magic is the kind of documentary that rarely gets made today. Taking the now generally unpopular observational approach, it offers a raw snapshot into the lives of a small community living in shacks on the edge of the Buda Forest, Lithuania. They have been there for over twenty years, and scrounge their living from a nearby landfill. Filmed over four years, The Field of Magic follows several community members in almost every aspect of their lives, from their almost frenzied scavenging at the landfill, to their constant but tumultuous love lives, to their affectionate and meticulous Christmas rituals.

The subject matter is Herzogian – people living in extreme conditions, insisting on survival in face of the most dwarfing forces of nature and society. But The Field of Magic dials down the romanticism, withholding the kind of weighty interpretation Herzog and his imitators have led audiences to expect in this kind of film. Instead, director Mindaugas Survila offers stark, uninflected images of both the profound suffering and perseverance of humanity at the most trying of fringes.

As we learn part way through the film, the Lithuanian media paints a very negative picture of the community, and The Field of Magic does what a good documentary should in light of journalistic haste and sensationalism: it offers a more patient and complex perspective that shows the strength and warmth of this proud community, as well as its pain and misery.

The Field of Magic screens tonight (Saturday, April 28) and this Monday (April 30) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.