In a documentary that could just as easily be a Christopher Guest film, director Nathan Truesdell pulls together archive footage of a frankly bizarre event that occurred in September 1986. The city of Cleveland attempted a new Guinness World Record by releasing 1.5 million balloons into the sky. What may not sound like the most gripping documentary subject finds itself boosted by the sheer, unrelenting joy of the locals and their local news team. Some of the people featured, including a balloon artist questioning just how well children will blow the balloons up, could’ve been plucked straight out of Best in Show.

The archive footage is sliced together superbly, telling the story of a city where apparently nothing much happens suddenly pulling together to blow up 1.5 million balloons. The news reporter tasked with covering the event appears to be having the most exciting day of his life. This film in no way mocks the people featured, however. Truesdell just lets them tell their own story in a very sweet, humbling kind of way.

The strange thing here is that it doesn’t appear any environmental concerns were raised when the event was being planned, or that it was taken into full consideration exactly where these balloons would end up landing. It’s also never explained just why they felt they should take on this record attempt in the first place, but this just adds to the quirky comedy that Balloonfest brings.

The most surprising thing about this documentary is the sharp turn it takes from bizarre joy to tragedy, as a cruel twist of fate overtakes the world record attempt. If Balloonfest were fictional it would be classed as a black comedy, but this is real life tragicomedy playing right out in front of you. Christopher Guest would be so proud.

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INFORMATION 

DIRECTOR: Nathan Truesdell

PRODUCERS: J. Goncalves, Charlotte Cook

SYNOPSIS: In September 1986, the city of Cleveland attempted to set a special record: the simultaneous launch of 1.5 million balloons. But fate intervened, and the result was both crazier and more tragic than anyone could have imagined.