Uncertain, a backwater US town filled with the most colourful characters imaginable
Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands’ warm, witty film about life in a Texas- Louisiana border town has rightly won every award possible
Uncertain resident Henry: “If I want to stay out all night that’s my business, ain’t it man?
Film Title: Uncertain
Director: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands
Running Time: 90 min
At the very end of a long and lonely road, on the Texas- Louisiana border, lies a 94-resident town named Uncertain. “You got to be lost to find it,” as one resident puts it. Local law enforcer Sheriff McCool confirms that it’s an obscure destination, often favoured with those who have cause to cross state lines: “Running from anywhere, Uncertain is a good place to hide”.
Sure enough, this utterly arresting documentary is peopled by some colourful folk, often with dark histories. One denizen introduces his father, Wayne, a reformed convict, with a synopsis of the old man’s parenting style: “Instead teaching me how to catch a baseball, he taught me how to cook dope.”
“We’ve had threesomes with women together,” adds dad.
Survival is tough in Uncertain and they can’t don’t come better equipped for the outdoors than Wayne, who spends much of the movie playing Captain Ahab to a giant, wild pig he calls Mr Ed. Using night vision and motion sensors from a purpose-built high tower, Wayne studies his porcine nemesis, who disappears for months. Has Mr Ed been abducted by aliens?
Elsewhere, elderly boatman Henry has met a younger woman having lost his wife of 50 years. His grown-up children are not amused. But Henry, a man with secrets and a twinkle in his eye, is not for turning: “If I want to stay out all night that’s my business, ain’t it man?” he says in a Southern drawl so soupy it requires subtitles.
Unhappily, the future of Uncertain is, well, uncertain. The weed Salvinia is, despite the valiant efforts of biologist Lee Eisenberg and his weevils, aggressively choking wildlife and fishing on the lake. That basin’s ill-health literally threatens local livelihoods and figuratively reflects the plight of a dwindling community.
Say hello to Zach, a bright, charming young fellow, who has made repeated attempts to quit the town and beer, in favour of the bright lights of Austin, only to be held back by severe diabetes. There is nothing for him to do in Uncertain, except “whack off, eat beans, play Minecraft… I haven’t had Netflix in forever”.
Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands’ warm, witty portrait of backwoods life has quite rightly won every possible award, including the Albert Maysles Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca Film Festival. Where another filmmaker might have revelled in Uncertain’s poverty and crime statistics, these directors find the sweetness in the saltiest of subjects and majesty in infested waters.