LA Film Fest 2013: THE ISLAND OF ST. MATTHEWS Review

6/10

Film Pulse Score

islandofst.matthews
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DIRECTED by:                Film Pulse Score: 6/10

What is it about these waters that despite the nearly annual floods the residents of Westport, Mississippi still remain?   The waters of the Tombigbee rise and fall but the community remains.  The waters threaten to destroy and wipe clean all that lies before it but the community still turns to it for religious and recreational purposes.  It’s an interesting dynamic but it’s one that could be washed away and forgotten.  Kevin Jerome Everson’s lyrical fable looks at the residents of Westport as they recount the great flood of 1973, a flood that threatened to wipe the community off the map.

The film is composed of scenes and imagery whose connective theme is the river.  Whether it is physically being shown or merely just being talked about, the river runs through it.   The film can be slow like a lazy day lounging on the river bank.   This stems from very long scenes where the subject is not immediately evident and a viewer’s attention could easily drift away.   In one scene we are watching the walls of the dam and we begin to notice the waters are rising and we watch in one continuous take as the waters continue to rise higher and higher.   In another we watch a dam operator doing his job, could come off as dull for some but interesting to others.  Another constant throughout the film is the tolling of the bell at St. Matthews.  It serves like a chapter break to introduce the next segment, the tone and ringing is different every time.  What it means, we are not sure.

Everson also points his camera at the residents of the Westport, Mississippi.  Church goers gather outside St. Matthews and share their memories of the ’73 flood.  One recounts how people just headed for high ground and sought refuge at a local’s place.  Others recall how they prepared for the flood like they always do only to discover that it wasn’t enough and that their homes were flooded out.  In other scenes we see people being baptized in the waters of the Tombigbee.  A water skier who seems to be skillful is taken down by choppy waters but gets back up.  We meet Emerson’s aunt at the Harris School of Cosmetology where she shares the secrets to a proper shampooing.  We are also introduced to Hook, an elderly man who lost his right hand and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, who recounts the flood from his porch.

Everson’s film can be a bit slow at times but when he focuses on the people it is very interesting and quite engaging.  He paints a leisurely portrait of the residents and the region that certainly captures the feel of being there.  It may be a bit too slow for city folk but it is just right for the residents of Westport.  Perhaps that is partly why they don’t leave when the river rises.  Hook says “Most of my classmates are gone on or dead.  I’m just proud to be here.”  It’s their home and they’re just happy to be alive and living in it.