Updated: See the YouTube trailer below!
I have previously disclosed on this site, more than once, my habit of collecting DVDs, especially those that have anything, whatsoever, to do with flying. There is, apparently, a masochistic underpinning to this, because so much of what I collect with such joy is, by most objective standards, terrible. (I somehow managed to inherit this trait sideways from my brother, a man who won’t bother with the culturally accepted worst movie of all time, Plan 9 From Outer Space, because it’s too good.)
In other words, I own a lot of movies with airplanes in them that are so bad they’re … well, still bad, but, as I said, they have airplanes in them.
Once in a while, though, something will find its way into my collection that reminds me that not every movie with an airplane in it is a guilty pleasure. Some of them, but not many, let you check your guilt at the door, and are simply pleasures.
Fearless Widget Productions’ Flying the Finch is just that: a pleasure.
It’s a lavish and loving look at at a fairly obscure airplane, a 1940 Fleet Model 16B "Finch", used as a trainer by the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program during World War II. The film features one of the few surviving and actively flying examples of the type, owned and operated by my friends the Tiger Boys in the city of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. (More disclosures on my connections to the film in a moment.)
Flying the Finch presents the history of the type and of the individual airplane, as well as an affectionate look at Tiger-Boy-in-Chief Tom Dietrich and a "rotten little airport kid" who grew up to be really nice guy named Bruce. Actor and, more importantly, exceptional pilot Michelle Goodeve serves as host, while pilot’s pilot and long-time filmmaker Glenn Norman took care of things behind the camera, and in the editing room.
And then there’s the flying.
Shot in rich, warm high-definition, the blue sky and the green grass and the yellow airplane made my television disappear, and replaced it with an open window. It made me happily homesick for my belov’d southern Ontario, and I’m betting it will have the same effect on other viewers, even those unlucky enough to have never been. It captures the essence of flying for its own sake, especially the passionate finesse of flying an antique.
A documentary like this strikes a balance: it’s part history lesson, part human interest, part pilot-talk, and part "Holy crow, would you just look at how beautiful that is! Really! Just look at it! Are you looking?!?! How do I rewind this thing?!?"
In so many cases, that balance is, well, unbalanced. Usually, the human interest and history bits are about right, the pretty bits are shortchanged because it’s cheaper to Ken Burns your camera across an old photo than it is to buy avgas, and the pilot-talk is just a tease, if it’s there at all. Some films can talk about an airplane, but not really offer a look at the cockpit, never mention things like approach speeds or how soon you lift the tail up on takeoff, or, most unforgivably, not actually show a landing for goodness’ sake. If you’re going to tell me about an airplane, you had better tell me what it’s like to fly it, or there will be trouble.
Flying the Finch pulls it off. Fearless Widget found the secret to producing a balanced documentary: include the right amount of everything.
One of the very best things about this DVD is that it is "just" the first in a series.
One of the most remarkable things about the DVD is how much it made me want to fly the Finch on my next visit to Guelph, even though that would inevitably mean taking time away from flying the Moths that drew me there in the first place.*
Which brings me to my previously promised disclosure:
I know most of the people involved in the production of the film. Glenn and Michelle are like family, only better, because they’re family by choice, not by chance. (Nothing by chance, after all …) Tom, the man for whom they invented the word "avuncular", and his business partner Bob "knock knock" Revell actually made me a Tiger Boy on my first visit, a decision that was every bit as kind but potentially ill-advised as feeding a stray dog; I just keep going back.
Conventional wisdom demands, then, that I apologize, or, at the very least, somehow qualify my opinion, because it’s presumed that more knowledge equals less objectivity. Yes, the people and places and things in the film carry some extra meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean I suddenly forgot the difference between a good airplane movie and a lousy movie with airplanes in it.
I have way too many of those to be considered anything less than an expert.
If you like airplanes, especially old ones, if you understand – or want to – why absurdly lucky chumps like me fly them, then do what I told you at the beginning: Buy it. Right now.
You’ll love it, and, besides, 50% of the proceeds go to the restoration and upkeep of the Tiger Boys’ Antique Aeroplane Collection – aeroplanes that deserve to keep flying.
Here’s the trailer, courtesy of YouTube:
*-Note: I was also drawn to the place by the people. But don’t tell Bob. He’ll never let me hear the end of it.