Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Sundance Dispatch #5 - Another One Gets Distribution

Ballast, the southern-set drama by Lance Hammer that won two awards at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, has been picked up by IFC Films in a deal said to be valued in the six-figure range. The company is expected to release the movie on First Take, its day-and-date label that releases movies theatrically, on the IFC network and on a video-on-demand platform.

"Ballast" focuses on a poor Mississippi Delta family and the tragedy that befalls them. The film, which stars a number of nonprofessional actors, won a director award for Hammer and a cinematography award for Lol Crowley. The film also will screen at this month's Berlin International Film Festival, a rarity for a film that premiered in Park City.

I should note that while the film has a predominantly black cast, the writer/director (Lance Hammer) is white. Reading the review below, along with all else that I've heard/read about the film, I'm getting a George Washington kind of vibe from it - white filmmaker, black cast, southern-set drama, non-professional actors, lots of improvisation giving it a certain realism, etc, etc, etc...

However, I'll certainly be watching for this one whenever it's released!

So, to my knowledge, that's 2 "black films" (or films that tell stories about black people) that played at the festival to receive distribution deals. The other being The Blacklist, which I mentioned several days ago, picked up by HBO.

Karina over at wrote an extensive review of the film. Here's a snippet:

Ballast is the kind of movie that I’m predisposed to enjoy - a slow, score-free and sometimes actually silent character study, offering the chance to spend some time watching real-ish people floating in and out of a crisis point, demanding that we engage by refusing to pander for that engagement––and yet its wonders still crept up on me. But falling for a movie is like falling for anything, I guess; you don’t really know it’s happening until the undeniable gut punch. 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.

The story begins with the suicide attempts of twin brothers Lawrence and Darius. Darius’ is successful, Lawrence’s is not, and after surgery and therapy, he returns to the dreary plot of land he shared with his brother and delivers a letter that passes for a will to Marlee, the estranged mother of Darius’ child.

Read the rest HERE.


  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Hmm... sounds like an interesting film... Though I do wonder why a white director choses to write such a moving story around depression and drug addiction using a predominantly black cast.

    Though the review reads like it has somewhat more depth than 'Hustle & Flow' I can't help feeling that he's jumping on that kind of bandwagon... and hoping that his pared down style will differentiate him from Brewer.

    I hope that this isn't heralding a new, re/defined 'blaxploitation' era where white filmmakers, producers and distributors are recognising that there's a market for 'black' stories as long as they're stories of drugs, desparation and all-round woe.

    At least D G Green's 'George Washington' has an ethnically balanced cast that doesn't feel contrived and a story which doesn't focus on drugs and social deprivation.

    But yeah, I guess this'll be one to watch out for, if only to see how it's handled. Reading reviews of 'Hustle & Flow' by white journalists prior to seeing or knowing too much about it would give the impression that it, too, might be a moving, compassionately told story. But, hey, some people would say that it is...

  2. The Obenson Report said...

    @ Wendy - when it hits theatres here, I'll certainly give it a look. Don't know if it'll reach the UK, so you'll have to live vicariously through me :o) I intend to see and review all the Sundance "black films" this year.

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