Film Review: 'UNCERTAIN' (2015) - Delving into the Deep South
Released in the UK today, Not So Popular's Cath reviews the award-winning documentary set in the aptly named Texas town, UNCERTAIN. Delving into the Deep South, she questions whether this small border-state town could possible be anybody's reality...
This winding and emotive documentary reaches into a part of the Deep South that most of us can barely imagine exists. Its inhabitants seem so far removed from our experience but still they manage to get close to our hearts.
UNCERTAIN is the aptly named title and town of this award-winning documentary, situated on the cusp of the Texas-Louisiana borderline and with a grand total population of 94. The film follows three main characters: Wayne, a recovering addict with a penchant for vintage guns and a questionable relationship with his son; Henry, a fisherman on Lake Caddo with a dark past, mourning the loss of his wife; and Zach, a 21-year-old alcoholic and diabetic whose mother had a nervous breakdown and was taken away to hospital. Early on, it becomes clear that UNCERTAIN is a troubled town, both by the lack of opportunity for its young folk and the unstoppable weed that threatens Lake Caddo, which sustains the sleepy settlement.
The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015, winning the Albert Maysles award for Best New Documentary Director for the joint efforts of directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands. The film is set for a limited UK release and I have to say that I’m pleased to see it over here, even if we are receiving it two years down the line.
An opening quote from the Sheriff, who says of the town Uncertain, that ‘you’ve gotta be lost to find it’, bears an unforgiving likeness to the town of Spectre from Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’ (2003). Also set in the Deep South, Spectre is a town in the middle of a forest, where a dreamy-eyed Ewan McGregor stumbles accidentally into it and becomes the only person ever to leave it. Without giving too much away (hopefully), you might say that young Zach is UNCERTAIN’s equivalent. He is the centre of the trail and the hope which guides us on throughout the film. At one point Zach even questions whether it is God who drives us on or whether it’s our own sense of worth that keeps us going. He refers to the ‘theists’ as though they are the other, which is odd for a kid from rural Texas.
What struck me about UNCERTAIN was how often I forgot that I wasn’t watching a narrative fiction feature. The pointedly static camera that lets the riverboat do the legwork, filming breath-taking lake scenes reminiscent of something by Terrence Malick; the dialogue so pointedly funny that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t scripted; and the characters so perfectly flawed and sympathetic that I can barely be certain that UNCERTAIN is real. It soon becomes clear that the key here is how the filmmakers developed such profoundly natural relationships with the inhabitants of Uncertain. A year and a half’s worth of filming falls so organically into place as a piece. Colour me impressed.
UNCERTAIN is set for UK release today with a number of upcoming screenings at ICA and an iTunes release set for 17th March.
EWAN MCNICOL & ANNA SANDILANDS
Ewan McNicol & Anna Sandilands are a directing and producing duo and co-owners of Lucid Inc., a documentary studio based in Seattle.
Anna & Ewan’s work has been curated and screened at MoMA in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London and the National Portrait Gallery in London, as well as film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, BFI London International Film Festival and SXSW.
In 2015, Anna & Ewan were awarded the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at Tribeca for their documentary feature UNCERTAIN. Their work has received other accolades including a Webby, a One Show Award, a Scottish BAFTA nomination, a Royal Television Society award, an IDFA ‘Silver Cub’ nomination, and an Effie. Ewan and Anna were named to Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 Fresh Faces To Watch” in 2013.
Anna, Ewan and their studio are based in Seattle USA.