Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands film won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Albert Maysles Documentary Director Award, winning audiences’ hearts and minds courtesy of its disarmingly funny portrait of the inhabitants of Uncertain, Texas.
Taking its title from a town located on the Louisiana Texas border Uncertain has a population of 94 souls. Described by the sheriff as somewhere you would never find unless you knew where it was or were lost, it is the last stop for lost souls and those with something to hide. Fitzgerald once wrote that life is much more successfully looked at through a single window. In the case of documentary directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands and their character study of Deep South mentality, that most definitely applies. At once isolating, shocking and melancholy their examination of situation versus circumstance in relation to the occupants of Uncertain is unnervingly honest.
Inhabitants include Wayne Smith, who obsessively hunts a hog called Mr Ed, Zack Warren a twenty-something skinny loner who lives in squalor playing an Xbox 360 with his cats and Henry Lewis a fisherman with an accent so thick he gets subtitles. McNicol and Sandilands dispassionately document these people, recording them recounting personal stories and never censoring them however dire the details. Their clinical approach and detached visual style allows the tragedy of the situation to pervade every frame as the swampland compounds the geographic isolation, beauty and loneliness of existence in this town.
If McNicol and Sandilands has a God-given talent it is his ability to get these people talking, either in talking heads, two handed conversations or intimate whispers with backs to camera. Uncertain is a place surviving day to day inhabited by people in a perpetual downward spiral oblivious to the futility of their struggle. If ever men were said to lead lives of quiet desperation then Henry, Zack and Wayne would be counted amongst that number. However amongst all the pain and regret exists moments of heart breaking humanity which bleed between the cracks, best discovered alone rather than in revelations here.
Of course Uncertain could be read as an allegory of America in freefall after the election of an entrepreneur businessman to the White House. A searing indictment of educational and social standards taking this town as a microcosm. Or more simply put it may just be a snapshot of atmospherically rich Americana indicative of a bygone era before social media, internet intrusion or democracy took a downturn and hinged on the output of one Twitter account. For me Uncertain is like being stuck in traffic next to the twisted wreckage of a car in flames. Blackened smoke, choking fumes and slack jawed bewilderment are the only reactions which realistically do it justice as you inch past and the smouldering carnage recedes in your rear view mirror. Thankfully you were only watching.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Ewan McNicol, Anna Sandilands
Written by: Ewan McNicol, Anna Sandilands
Released: 2015 / Genre: Documentary
Country: USA / IMDB
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Uncertain was released on UK cinemas March 10. It is available on VOD March 17.