Uncertain is a small film about a small town, but it feels expansive.
It goes without saying that America has found itself in troubling times; outwardly divided, inwardly and continually conflicted about moving forward into a new millennium. It is a watershed moment politically and culturally – one that, perhaps hyperbolically, defines the future. Thus it is funny and comforting to find a film like Uncertain, the debut feature documentary from Ewan McNichol and Anna Sandilands. It is a gentle reminder of the grace in change and the balances of life.
Uncertain turns its attention to the titular town of Uncertain, Texas – a small whistle-stop on the Texas/Louisiana border with a population of 94. The town’s central economic attraction is Caddo Lake, a boggish body of water known for its fishing, but being overrun by invasive algae that threaten the fish population. While scientists attempt to quell the problem, this conflict serves primarily as a metaphor for the townsfolk, whom McNichol and Sandilands choose to turn their lenses toward.
One is a lonely fishing guide, Henry, who longs for his late wife of 50 years. There is Wayne, a recovering addict who obsesses over hunting down a hog he calls “Mr. Ed” in the town woods. And then there is young Zach, an alcoholic diabetic who maintains a realistic optimism about his finding a place in the world.
For a documentary, Uncertain is rich with metaphor.
For a documentary, Uncertain is rich with metaphor. There is, of course, the name Uncertain – a timely name considering the town’s hazy prospects, but also, its inhabitant’s lives. Each of its three characters finds themselves at a point of motion. Henry, who wants to go back, yet understands he has to move forward. Wayne, moving forward, has found a good life in Uncertain, while continuing to learn to accept his troubled past. Zach wants to move on and be better. Like the lake that sits at the center of their home, they all share a quiet, patient resilience.
Following in the tradition of recent top cultural documentaries like Bombay Beach and Rich Hill, Uncertain is a small film about a small town, but it feels expansive. The gorgeous photography traversing the lake makes the town feel cinematic. But McNichol, who acts a cinematographer here as well, finds an understated intimacy with his and Sandilands’ subjects, always framing them as part of their surroundings. Perhaps the greatest strength of Uncertain is McNichol and Sandilands’ understanding of the relationship between their film’s characters and it’s location. Without one, the other is left meaningless.
‘Uncertain’ is not rated. 82 minutes. Now playing in select theaters in New York and on VOD and iTunes March 17th.