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Quest for Fire

(La Guerre du feu)

Year: 1982
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 100 min
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Producer: John Kemeny, Denis Héroux
Executive Producer: Michael Gruskoff
Writer: Gérard Brach, J Rosny
Cinematographer: Claude Agostini
Editor: Yves Langlois
Sound: Claude Hazanavicius, Kenneth Heeley-Ray
Music: Philippe Sarde
Cast: Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi, Rae Chong
Production Company: International Cinema Corporation, Belstar Production, Stefan Films (France)

Set eighty thousand years ago and billed as a “science-fantasy film,” Quest for Fire follows three members (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi) of the Ulam, a tribe of early Homo sapiens, who are forced to journey across a vast, dangerous landscape in search of fire after their precious, life-sustaining flame is extinguished during an attack by a Neanderthal tribe, the Wagabous. After inadvertently rescuing Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) from a tribe of cannibals, Ulam leader Noah (McGill) forms an emotional attachment to her and ventures to her village, where he learns a number of skills from the more evolved Ivaka tribesmen, including how to create fire. Armed with this new knowledge, Noah returns with Ika and his fellow tribesman to the Ulam home, where a better life awaits.

This Canada-France co-production – shot on location in Canada, Scotland and Kenya – offers a vision of humanity’s beginnings that bears similarities to the opening act of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, in place of that film’s open-ended, eerily profound sense of awe, Quest provides a more sentimental, romanticized and conveniently condensed narrative depicting how early man overcame his harsh realities by evolving a keener manipulation of technical skills – creating fire, making utensils and shelter, building a better spear – and a deeper understanding of our emotional capacity, including such feelings as humour, romantic interdependence, communion with animals and love.

Funny, tense and touching, the film was greeted with great success internationally. It won five Genie Awards (including best lead actress for Chong) two César Awards for best film and best director, and a BAFTA and an Academy Award® for best make-up. The primitive languages were created by Anthony Burgess and the body movements were devised by Desmond Morris, author of Naked Ape.

By: Andrew McIntosh

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