Hot Docs 2015: The Circus Dynasty (2014)
Anders Riis-Hansen’s documentary The Circus Dynasty has all the makings of a modern-day fairytale. Two talented circus families have worked together for 20 years. The Berdinos own and run the circus, and the Cassellys are fifth-generation circus artists, and the most awarded act in Europe. The heirs apparent, Patrick and Merrylu, are now poised to unite the families more intimately, destined to create a new era of circus greatness. To fulfill a dream for their families.
And Patrick and Merrylu are fabulous to watch. Good-looking, crazy talented and incredibly focused, to watch them practice and perform together is highly satisfying. Born within a month of each other, they’ve grown up together, but it wasn’t until they turned 19 (and worked together on a roller skating act) that they formed a romantic attachment. The Circus Dynasty drops in on the lives of the two families when Patrick and Merrylu are 21 years old, when the fulfillment of so many dynastic dreams is tantalizingly close.
Seeing what goes into circus act is reason enough to see The Circus Dynasty. I was fascinated by the performance end of things. Watching the Casselly patriarch work with the animals is a site to behold; the care he takes, the affection and respect he has for them. 15-year-old René worked on a single spinning move for months on end in order to perfect it. Merrylu performed through injury and a significant amount of pain after being kicked by a horse prior to a show. Even on the circus management side of things, listening to the head of the Berdino family pass down wise words to his grandson, Patrick, reveals a strong respect for the patrons, an instinct for knowing what they’ll respond to, and a gratitude that his family is still in the circus business. That kind of passion, that kind of commitment to a way of life, is compelling to watch.
But the mysteries of circus life, elephant and high-wire acts, amazing acrobatics, and fabulous sparkly costumes aren’t the only reason to see the film. At its core, it’s just a story of families, of the ebb and flow of relationships, and of the trials and tribulations of a budding romance. Watching those family dynamics, hearing them all weigh in on the kids’ relationship, understanding the sacrifices made, and the pressure placed on both of them (at the tender age of 21), is a bit of a roller coaster ride. You’ll likely find yourself silently taking sides in the arguments. Merrylu and Patrick, whether they like it or not, hold the dreams of a circus dynasty in their hands.
Screening Times for The Circus Dynasty
Sat, Apr 26, 6:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sun, Apr 26, 1:00 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 1, 4:00 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Gallery for The Circus Dynasty
*photo credit to Anders Riis-Hansen