'Charged': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2017

Jennifer Jane
A literally jolting documentary.

This doc that opened this year's Santa Barbara International Film Festival tells the story of a chef who was hit with 2,400 volts of electricity and survived the freak accident.

Stories about people coming back from life-threatening injuries or illness are nothing new. These films offer the opportunity to celebrate what used to be called “the indomitability of the human spirit.” Yet the right variation on the theme can revitalize a potentially clichéd undertaking. Charged, which opened the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this week, keeps audiences mesmerized.

Eduardo Garcia was a chef with a passion for the outdoors. On a solitary trek in the Montana wilderness, he came upon a dead bear, and when he touched the bear, he was unexpectedly hit with 2,400 volts of electricity from a nearby power line. It isn’t entirely clear how this happened, but freak accidents are not always thoroughly explicable. Garcia was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries to his head, arms, ribcage and other parts of the body. Eventually his left hand was amputated, and several other surgeries kept him in the hospital for almost two months. As he recovered, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent chemotherapy along with his physical rehabilitation.

It’s something of a mystery as to why some people survive these trials and others may be destroyed. Clearly Garcia had more ferocious determination than others in this devastating situation. But the film is far from a one-dimensional glorification of a survivor. Garcia’s background is fascinating and complex. He tells us that he was kicked out of nine schools when he was growing up, and his troubled relationship with his father clearly cast a dark shadow. The father abandoned the family when his children were toddlers, and when Eduardo reconnected with him as a teenager, father and son drank and took drugs together. Eduardo also sabotaged a meaningful relationship with an aspiring artist named Jennifer Jane by engaging in compulsive promiscuity.

Amazingly, however, Jennifer became a partner with Eduardo in his culinary enterprises after their romantic relationship soured, and she proved to be a loyal supporter after his injury. She was the one who began to film Eduardo when he was in the hospital, partly to keep him occupied and engaged during the hardest days of his recovery. Eventually the two of them connected with documentary director Phillip Baribeau, who chronicled the later stages of Eduardo’s journey. Baribeau and his cinematographers capture the expansive beauty of the Montana landscapes that enthralled Garcia as well as the oppressiveness of the hospital rooms and corridors where he was forced to spend many months of his life

Garcia had a good deal of support in addition to Jane. His family gave him the nurturing that he needed, and he benefited from his own ferocious energy, which contributed to his recklessness as well as to his strength under pressure. Charged never simplifies Eduardo’s nature or the key relationships in his life. We end up appreciating his charisma and marveling at his resilience without ever seeing him as a paragon. Now, several years after the accident, he has resumed his work as a chef and also travels as an inspirational speaker. Audiences who meet him in person as well as those who see him in this film will find him hard to resist.

Director: Phillip Baribeau
Producers: Dennis Aig, Phillip Baribeau
Executive producers: Peter Hochfelder, Scott Ballew, Teri Weinberg, Doug Ellin, Constance Schwartz-Morini, Michael Strahan
Directors of photography: Phillip Baribeau, George Potter, Jennifer Jane
Editor: Tony Hale
Music: Joachim Cooder
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

86 minutes

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