3 Must-See Regional Films from 2011
What is “regional film”?
The term does not have a very concrete, undisputed definition. Some of my filmmaking peers and myself might categorize a regional film as any that is about the place it’s from. Therefore, we might label a “regional filmmaker” as one who creates films that evoke, speak to, describe, or take place in the filmmaker’s chosen region. A term I like to use are “home-brewed” movies, as in our case, the films are most often also completely independently produced. On a big scale, Martin Scorsese’s or Woody Allen’s New York works or maybe Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings projects might be the best examples of regional film. On a much smaller scale, I might humbly submit our own films The Nocturnal Third and A Genesis Found, as well as films like Pop Skull or George Washington.
The unsustainable nature of DIY productions notwithstanding, we are living in an age where an American region can use narrative cinema to represent itself to itself, and to its surrounding regions. Call it “local foreign cinema”… taking a microcosmic look at a national culture. Previously, this kind of cultural understanding had been left to documentary film, a vibrant and flexible medium.
Here are three narrative films from 2011 that are not only region-specific, but evocative, unique, and entertaining.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (dir. Joe Cornish)
U.K. comedy writer Joe Cornish surprised us all this year by releasing the Summer’s second “kids versus alien” adventure film, after June’s Super 8. Whereas the J.J. Abrams movie paid homage to Spielberg suburbia, Cornish kept things very local, honing in on his specific South London location. In addition to being central to the inner city, the film also subverts its genre’s expectations, at times making smart – though unsubtle – social statements: Cornish’s young heroes wonder if they’re being dealt with as the monsters they’re perceived to be by society, as well as questioning why social activists travel abroad to take care of global issues while forsaking issues at home. The film wisely uses the helpful tropes of science fiction and action cinema to get across some very specific and heady cultural ideas. That said, it is also a load of fun. Featuring some of the best creature designs I’ve ever seen, a poppy and distinctly modern European style, and a score by Steven Price, Felix Buxton, and Simon Ratcliffe that mashes Kanye West with John Carpenter, Attack the Block is one of the year’s most exuberant movies.
MEEK’S CUTOFF (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
All three of Kelly Reichardt’s feature films have been set in Oregon. Her first film, Old Joy, is a morose and lyrical travelogue through the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and here, she finds a brilliant entry point into the culture of her region. By reaching into history and exploring a local legend – that of a wagon train led by a questionable leader – she manages to craft a uniquely revisionist Western that uses genre to hide some of Old Joy‘s more obvious subtexts of ego-driven male certainty and political arrogance. Though Meek’s Cutoff is certainly a Western, it might not be the Oregon Trail video adaptation your nine-year-old self would have wanted to see. Reichardt takes her time in her visual approach, and Jonathan Raymond’s script demands patience. Despite the film’s intentional pacing, every scene is efficient and progressive, leading to a logical, well-earned ending that my fellow Film Nerds might dispute. Regardless of your stylistic preference, Meek’s Cutoff is – for me – a watershed in regional filmmaking.
TAKE SHELTER (dir. Jeff Nichols)
Take Shelter has been steadily gaining quite a bit of Oscar buzz, and might be the most visible of all the films I’ve selected. Here, Michael Shannon gives what might be his best performance as Curtis LaForche, a man who begins seeing apocalyptic visions that drive him to question reality. This selection is a bit of a cheat, as the film takes place in Ohio, despite director Nichols being an Arkansas native whose first film, Shotgun Stories, was set in Arkansas. That said, Take Shelter maintains Shotgun Stories‘ rural setting, and the regions are closely related. I’m curious about the change in setting; I would assume it has something to do with the thematic necessity of Curtis’ profession as a sand miner. Regardless, Nichols’ look at rural middle America is unparalleled in modern film, and I hope he maintains his specific sense of place and reliance on character. What floored me about Take Shelter was its inverted use of apocalyptic nightmares as a framing device for marital strife, and how responsible he was with the fragile character dynamic the film begins with. There are more nationalist subtexts in Take Shelter that many critics are drawing out, but on its surface, the film is an amazing and honest look at the Western family unit.
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