Tobacco Pipe Documentary

Dispatch: More Than 15 Films To See at Chicago International Film Festival This Weekend


Father the Flame

Director/Cinematographer Chad Terpstra’s contemplative love letter to the tobacco pipe, Father the Flame charts the art of pipe-making from its roots in Native American culture, to the so-called factory pipes of France and Italy, all the way through to modern, high-grade artisanal pieces (works of art in their own right, some of these pipes will cost the same as a down payment on a house). It’s a hypnotic work, striking the same reverence for its subject as Jiro Dreams of Sushi does for the famed Japanese cuisine. The documentary’s main subject, and its true heart, is Lee Erck, a world renowned pipe-maker from Michigan whose unassuming attitude and Midwestern cadence reveal something rare: a truly humble genius.

Terpstra captures the artist in his small home workshop, follows him to Japan and Italy; an interlude in Chicago (the home of the world’s largest pipe convention), is especially touching, showcasing Erck’s dedication to the craft and his love for the community of pipe-devotees. Terpstra manages to find mythic proportions in the fine details of these exquisite pieces; tracking across the pipe’s microscopic wood grain feels like flying across canyons, close-ups of burning of tobacco look practically volcanic, and when cut between celestial photography and paired with an operatic score, the film takes on the feeling of a séance. What emerges from it all is a magnificent and haunting meditation on legacy, inheritance, obsession and the meaning of a life’s work. Father The Flame screens Friday, 10/12 at 6:30pm, and Sunday, 10/14 at 11:30am. Filmmaker Chad Terpstra, subject Lee Von Erck and more are scheduled to attend. (MN)