There's a fantastic new work of cinema out there that's funny, heartbreaking, honest, and beautiful ... but you can't see it. It's not graphic or violent or obscene; it's not esoteric or experimental, but nevertheless, you couldn't see it if you tried.
The film is called Low and Behold, and it's the directorial debut of Zack Godshall, from a script by Godshall and Barlow Jacobs. The film, which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of Turner Stull (Jacobs), a young man who comes to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to work for his uncle as an insurance claims adjuster. The film mixes scripted material with improvisation and real-life testimonials from Katrina victims, and as Stull surveys the destruction, he (and the audience) comes to see the world differently and develops a profound connection to the humanity around him.
Sounds really unbearable, right? I mean, who would want to see that? It's got, like, all this drama in it. People might, like, you know, get all upset and stuff. It doesn't even have any puppies or cute little kids in it. What the hell are we supposed to enjoy here? How the hell can anyone make money on that?
Is this why no one has the balls to distribute this film? Do distributors think we -- the audience -- aren't mature enough to handle something like this that is both highly entertaining and deeply moving? Do they think that, like United 93, we're not interested in "going there," that it's too soon? This is the best answer I can come up with, but that doesn't make it any less insulting.
But Low and Behold's topicality is only a small part of its power. This film would be yesterday's news if it wasn't also an incredibly accomplished, daring work of filmmaking, and Low and Behold is at least as good as half of the so-called best films of last year. It not only captures everything important and true about the situation on the Gulf Coast, but in doing so, it reads like a valentine to everything there is to love (and hate) about south Louisiana. Humor, compassion, lethargy, lunacy -- it's all there, along with some of the most understated and hard-hitting performances in independent cinema. This is Cassavetes country; this is the world of De Sica, Rossellini, early Visconti. The cinematography is assured and genuine, always in the right place at the right moment; the editing mixes fact, fiction, and poetry seamlessly; and final shot is as heartbreaking and powerful as the end of Five Easy Pieces, so devastatingly perfect that you can't leave your seat because you feel like you'd be walking out of the film. Low and Behold might be over, but it feels like its hold on you has just begun. You realize the film hasn't just made this issue local to New Orleans -- it has made it local to you.
But the film that Low and Behold bears the most resemblance to is Charles Burnett's 1977 masterpiece Killer of Sheep, which recently found a theatrical release after nearly 30 years in copyright hell. And this brings us to the most important thing about this film: we cannot afford to wait 30 years to see Low and Behold. This is a film people need to see now. Although Godshall shot the film eight months after Katrina, he could go back to many of his locations today and do reshoots that would match perfectly. In other words, nothing has changed. People might know this, but Low and Behold allows them to feel it in a profound, affecting way.
Those expecting an overtly political angle to the film may be disappointed. Godshall does not give anyone the easy way out by pushing a political agenda. The film shows that this is an issue which transcends politics. His is a film about people, not issues, and watching these good, hardworking people in such a dire, sorrowful situation is political statement enough. His camera doesn't lie, spin, or distort because it doesn't have to; the situation more than speaks for itself to anyone who is willing to listen.
And people are still willing to listen, but that truth apparently isn't reaching the minds (and checkbooks) of distributors. But if there's room for vapid cinema, sanctimonious cinema, escapist cinema, torture cinema, and art cinema, then there is more than enough room for honest cinema like Low and Behold.
A distributor needs to step up and do the right thing. I know you distributors are in this business to make money, but you also love to go to festival panels and film schools and tell everyone that you're in the business of giving good films the audience they deserve. Well, Low and Behold is one of those films. What are you waiting for?
For more information, please visit the film's website at http://lowandbeholdmovie.com/