Film: Welcome to Pine Hill
Director: Keith Miller
Cast: Shannon Harper, Mary Myers, Landon Van Soest, Jaiden Kaine, Keith Miller, Katie Vitale
?The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.?
John F. Kennedy
Reality Leaking Into Drama Leaking Into Reality
Abu, moonlighting as a bouncer, is sitting at the bar when a white nerd asks him what his neighbourhood is like. Abu remarks offhandedly that the kids ran wild and did as they pleased, to which the guy responds that he’s heard all about that in rap songs. Abu bristles and begins to deliver some judiciously chosen, caustic remarks. Tensions rise until the bar attendant says she’ll close if they keep it up.
Later, during a taxi ride, Abu extends to the newly arrived Ecuadorean taxi driver the same mocking condescension that the guy in the bar had just extended to him, gently laughing at the foreigner’s poor command of English even as the man’s face exhibits a humiliated wrath.
We see the camera pan to his mother in her drab apartment, past the dirty dishes, old plaster, and hanging fly strip. We hear the sounds of a couple in the next apartment verbally abusing each other?and maybe something worse. His mother keeps a potted plant beside her wretched kitchen sink. There are everywhere signs of a longing for life, greenery, and beauty even as the will to create such an environment has all but vanished.
We get glimpses of Abu’s longing and his death wish. Above his bed he’s mounted a beautiful photo of tree trunks in a verdant forest, a visual precursor to his final journey.
Are we watching a dramatization or a documentary? It’s often asked if a true documentary is even possible once a camera is turned on, but in this case It’s not an issue because no effort is being made to differentiate truth and fiction.
This director’s approach is to let reality ?leak into? the story he’s written. It’s a form similar to Truman Capote’s approach to journalism, now called literary nonfiction or creative journalism, with one big difference: Capote strove to portray an existing event as accurately as possible while raising it to the status of art and giving it the full benefit of his literary prowess. Miller, on the other hand, openly states that he begins with a semi-fabricated story and then allows real life to happen around it, recording the reality as part of the warp and woof of the imaginary construct. But you don’t know where reality leaves off and fiction begins, and so the two sides become one as the viewer is compelled to accept the story as both fact and fiction.
Shannon Harper makes his acting debut here, but his performance is pretty amazing. Abu is not an easy character to play, except by someone just like him.
The look on Abu’s face when he hears his medical diagnosis is worth studying; It’s like watching a pedestrian hitting an icy patch, losing his balance, and flailing violently to regain it, all the while struggling to retain a composure and dignity That’s now absurdly pointless. His expression sums up the angst we all face when forced to sit down with our mortality.
The ego defenses in this world are status symbols, verbal and physical violence, and making fun, all of which are shown up for their utter absurdity in the face of the imminence of death but serving as possibly the only means of buffering individuals from the awful truth.
Gangstas in film and song are usually portrayed as the ?other,? a realm of existence with which we’re either to contrast our comfortable lives or identify (if we’re gangstas ourselves). In both instances we’re to look down on the gangsta as someone beneath us, someone to condemn and deride. In Welcome to Pine Hill, Abu the ex-gangsta is the archetypal hero. We can’t look down on him because he’s simply too strong, too noble, and too alone in his determination to triumph over self and circumstance.
When Abu finally makes it to the forest, he stumbles clumsily, and even falls down, quickly getting back up to swagger on. This is somehow where he belongs. He’s no Robin Hood, and there’s something about the sight of him walking into the darkness of the forest That’s unbearably human. There’s a bear on the path ahead of him. He regards it without fear?but also without a desire to challenge it?and walks calmly in another direction.
Abu represents a tragic hero. We only need to spend a little time in his company to know that in some mysterious way he’s better than us. He has no social supports to enable him to be a good man. The reward for someone like him to be a good man is paltry and the penalties are steep. Yet he chooses to be honest, self-sufficient, dignified, and responsible. Why? We don’t know, but It’s a marvellous thing to see.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.