Opening today at the Museum of Modern Art for a one-week run is “Uncertain”, a documentary that derives its title from the hamlet (population 94) of the same name in Texas close to the border with Louisiana. The film begins with its characteristic dry humor pointing to signs posted for the “Uncertain Police Department”, etc. Uncertain’s chief of police notes that it has always been a magnet for people fleeing from the law in Louisiana. Just one step across state lines and you are home free.
There are three subjects in the film who typify its marginal existence, evoked by the name of the place they call home. One is a heavily tattooed, diabetic and alcoholic young man who feels trapped in Uncertain, especially with its lack of a single unmarried woman. Early on we see him at a Karaoke bar singing a Beatles song terribly off-key. The second is a former heroin addict and American Indian who has cleaned up his life and found himself in Uncertain. He spends almost every leisure hour trying to kill a giant boar that has staked out territory in the woods near Uncertain. The beast has become his Moby Dick. The third is a 74-year old African-American who loves to fish in the nearby lake that is suffering from an overgrowth of vegetation that will kill the fish and bring an end to the tourist trade, one of the few sources of income. He has spent years in prison as a young man for shooting someone in the face during a senseless squabble.
The contrast between MOMA, a flagship of the liberal bourgeoisie, and the film’s subjects could not be sharper. In less capable hands, the film could have smacked of Hillary Clinton’s attitudinizing about “deplorables” but co-directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands obviously have a real affection for the three men and allow their humanity to shine through. The American Indian visits the grave of a young African-American who he killed in an auto accident while DWI, while the old African-American reflects on the approach of death that will reunite him with his wife who is in heaven. He only hopes that he won’t end up in hell since admits being bad to the bone when young.
Since I grew up in a tiny village in the countryside (population 300 or so), I have an affinity for films like this. If you are in NYC, you might want to check “Uncertain” out at the MOMA. It will be available as VOD afterwards and worth looking for on iTunes and the other VOD sources. I would also recommend “Vernon, Florida”, an Errol Morris film that is a bit more patronizing and “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” that has the same combination of small town eccentrics and a dying body of water. It can be seen for a mere $2.99 and is tons of fun.