January 20, 2008

Sundance. Ballast.

Ballast "A rock-ribbed sense of committed, personal cinema and a core belief in people being able to pull themselves out of misery supports Ballast, an extraordinary debut by editor-writer-director Lance Hammer," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "Hammer quickly establishes himself with the only film he's ever made as a humanist artist working confidently and quietly with the cinema's most basic and expressive tools. Following a Mississippi Delta family shattered by suicide and violence, pic runs a course from wrenching death to possible uplift that seems real every second, but will prove a challenge to potential distribs even while winning over fests worldwide." And he's sent a note to the Circuit: "I predict now that this will be a major awards contender in Berlin."

Updated through 1/26.

Mike D'Angelo comments.

"Ballast is a slow-burning revelation," writes Tom Hall. "What a relief to find an American filmmaker telling a compelling story, telling it so assuredly and in such a way as to invite comparison to greatness. In a festival that promised us more than its fair share of quirky families in crisis, Ballast feels like a genuine discovery; A film with the courage and ambition to treat its audience like adults and to bring American cinema the serious, compelling voice of a fully developed artist."

"Movies like this have shown up at this festival before (drugs, guns, poverty in African American lives; from 1994's Fresh to 2006's Half Nelson), usually from sensitive white directors," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Ballast is different, closer to the Dardenne brothers than to most American movies.... The movie needs a loving American distributor right now."

"The poignancy of the final scenes redeems a lot of what goes before," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

IndieWIRE interviews Hammer.

Earlier: David D'Arcy.

Update: James Rocchi talks with Hammer for Cinematical.

Updates, 1/21: "Ballast marks the arrival of a major American talent in Lance Hammer," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "It is a subtle, honest, heartbreaking work that shatters stereotypes and captures life at its most tender and fragile."

"[F]alling for a movie is like falling for anything, I guess; you don't really know it's happening until the undeniable gut punch," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "For me, that moment came about two thirds of the way through Ballast, with a shot of a young boy lying on the floor, listening to adults speak off camera while absentmindedly stroking the belly of a giant dog. Like every shot in Lance Hammer's feature directorial debut, it's dead simple but beautifully composed, and it gets you by playing hard to get."

Updates, 1/22: "People mock 'Sundance films,' or joke that 'Sundance' spelled backwards is 'massive depression,'" writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "The reality of the matter is that if mainstream film offers us escape, independent cinema offers a necessary escape from escapism. Movie characters don't seem to worry about paying the bills; most moviegoers do. But films like Ballast - concerned with struggle, loss, poverty and wounded hearts - are easily ignored and dismissed.... Cineastes, looking for an American film that offers something on-screen other than glossy consumerist fantasies, will embrace Ballast with the ardent fervor of a drowning victim offered a rope."

"Alas, since I don't subscribe to the self-congratulatory notion that a film's worth hinges on the degree to which it reflects your own worldview, thereby making you feel good about yourself for admiring it - a phenomenon I've dubbed 'soup kitchen cinema' - I can't join in the hosannahs," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab.

"Ballast is a tough movie, no doubt," writes Anthony Kaufman in indieWIRE. "But it's far from impenetrable (the conclusion, in fact, is perhaps too obviously telegraphed.) On the contrary, what emerges is a crystal clear humanist vision of broken-down people who find a semblance of stability in each other."

Online listening tip. Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog: "In this interview Hammer and stars Michael Smith, Tarra Riggs and Johnny McPhail talk about working without a script, the bonds formed on set, and why throwing away the script is the first step toward truth in film."

Update, 1/23: "Ballast is a movie marked by the most unusual mix of inspirations: Charles Burnett's impressionistic renderings of black American life, the Dardenne brothers' neo-realist city symphonies, and Mexican director Carlos Reygadas's ecstatic widescreen exploration of rural vistas," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But Hammer has digested those influences and formed from them a wholly original meditation on lost souls trying to gain a foothold in a bleak, treacherous landscape. It is, I think, the single most impressive film to premiere at Sundance since Half Nelson in 2006, and the high-water mark by which all others in and out of this year's competition should be judged."

Update, 1/25: "My colleague Howard believes that what I call the arty longueurs of the first half to be essential, that the process of the film finding its own voice is an essential part of what it's about. I'm not so sure," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Nevertheless, this is the only film I saw at Sundance for which such a question even came up, which may be indicative of the ambition, or lack thereof, of most of the other pictures I saw there."

Updates, 1/26: "The movie has a slow arc toward redemption but nothing in it seems forced or remotely Hollywood; everything's rooted in the low skies and endless spaces of the setting," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Daringly, Hammer doesn't use a musical score of any sort, and the silence is both oppressive and ultimately liberating."

"In making the film, which was shot over 45 days in the Mississippi Delta, Hammer was adamant that the film reflect the complex and tumultuous spirit of the region. 'I wanted people to play parts who were from the region, [and] I wanted to create a story that reflected the tone of the place... The fields are dripping in blood.'" A report from indieWIRE's Brian Brooks.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 20, 2008 8:18 AM