Director Shereen Jerrett's (shown) film "Kid Nerd" is just one of five entries at the Toronto International Film Festival from the National FIlm Board of Canada. The film looks at nerd-dom, that awkward phase that spells hell for so many kids in high-school. --CP

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Friday, September 12, 1997

Nerds and obsession among NFB film festival themes

Canadian Press
TORONTO (CP) -- It all began with the NFB.
Canada's legendary expertise in animation and documentary filmmaking, that is.
So it's only natural that the National Film Board has five entries in this week's Toronto International Film Festival.
Two of them, Kid Nerd and Drowning in Dreams, are documentaries that take a skewed look at human foibles, but from distinctly different perspectives.
Kid Nerd is Shereen Jerrett's nostalgically funny look at nerddom, that hellishly awkward phase endured by so many kids during their high-school years.
The Winnipeg filmmaker admits she was one of them.
"I like to blame it on the fact I had braces from Grade 4 to first-year university. But no, really, being a nerd comes from within."
Jerrett's film focuses on successful adults who survived nerddom, even triumphed.
Take Penn Jillette, the hulky half of the comic-magician duo of Penn and Teller. Penn was once a nerd, shunned by the in-crowd.
"He wouldn't fight back, he would get clobbered," says Jerrett. "If you can beat up a big guy, it's an ego rush. So he became a target."
Despite the stereotype -- the geeky intellectual with horn-rimmed glasses and a pen-filled pocket protector -- nerds do come in all shapes and sizes.
Another subject in the film is a successful stripper who gets a kick now out of men paying good money to drool over her body.
Jerrett's message for those who don't fit in?
"Hang in there, you know? Don't give up who you are. Be who you are. It's very, very hard but you shouldn't compromise yourself just for the adulation of a bunch of morons, because they're not going to like you anyway."
She points to Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates as two former nerds who now practically control the media-technology industry. Talk about revenge.
On a more serious note, Drowning in Dreams brings a touch of deja vous to the festival, since its theme recalls last year's hit, Peter Lynch's Project Grizzly.
And no wonder. Producer Michael Allder commissioned both films, which deal with a pet subject of his; magnificent obsessions.
Both Drowning and Grizzly focus on northern Ontario men fixated on Quixotic projects. In Lynch's film the hero tried to build a special armored suit to go up against a grizzly bear.
In Drowning we meet Fred Broennle, a diver who has dedicated more than 25 years to raising the Gunilda, an American luxury yacht that sunk off the north shore of Lake Superior in 1911.
Director Tim Southam says the theme is what happens when someone "propelled by a terrible energy" actually fulfils a lifetime dream.
"It's a double-edged sword. You conveniently remove the purpose of your entire life."
As the film progresses, Broennle moves from a heroic adventurer to a politically incorrect one, clashing angrily with groups opposed to pillaging and looting Great Lakes shipwrecks.
"This is a titanic figure who is brought down in bits and bites by other people's agendas," says Southam. "Nothing is easy about this dream. Life keeps coming back and slapping our hero around."