Travels with Tarzan: A Documentary Odyssey, continued...


   Back home, having dubbed and logged what we've got so far, we see we have no movie. We think the documentary should take a chronological shape, but with the fiasco of the broken camera, we really have no ending. There are gaps in our performance coverage and characters to flesh out. Do we quit now, or do we shoot more? Money, we don't have. Lots of footage, and a great beginning, we do have. We decide to go for the whole enchilada.

Travels with Tarzan: A Documentary Odyssey. By Robin Rosenthal
Travels with Tarzan: A Documentary Odyssey. By Robin Rosenthal
Travels with Tarzan: A Documentary Odyssey. By Robin Rosenthal


   After getting our gear through Canadian customs, we find the town, a Toronto suburb, and the mall parking lot where the circus is setting up. Patty Zerbini gives us a surprisingly warm greeting, and we know we will get what we need now.
   Much has changed. The circus is running like a well-oiled machine. Energetic new drivers and tent crew have come on board, as they do every summer in Canada. The weather is glorious, and the guys are all showing off their tanned, tightened selves. Everyone is happy to see us.
   Good ol' Texas boy Billy Rogers, who rides a motorcycle around inside a 12-foot diameter metal globe, is hanging out with Russian aerialist Olga Karima. Billy's partner, Mark, has something going with a red-haired concessions girl. Othmar's tiger groom, Mike, has been joined on the tour by his best friend from back home, Sue Bird. Sue has been hired to provide schooling for some of the children traveling with the circus, and after class she sits on her bunkhouse stoop and breathlessly fills us in: She's always wanted to travel, she's quit her nursing job, she and Mike are not really together "like that," and by the way, they're pregnant. "Oh boy," we say, mimicking Othmar's habitual response. We hope we can find a way to include this news that isn't exploitative.
   Sometimes we hang out with our new friends at the end of the day, and by now, we are so fond of our subjects that the line between friendship and filmmaking is blurring. It's the documentary maker's dilemma -- to sort out what helps tell the story, and what is needlessly invasive. They will become "characters," versions of themselves useful for telling our story -- and theirs -- the story of a season on the road with the circus. But of course each of their stories is much more complicated than their "characters," deeper than we can possibly reveal.



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