Monday, May 12, 2014

"Little Accidents": Altman-like drama looks at tragedy underneath the lives of families of coal miners

The closing night film at the Maryland Film Festival Sunday was “Little Accidents”, directed and written by Sara Colangelo, developed in a workshop sponsored by Sundance (working on the material of her earlier 2010 short film – an artistic progression that Jorge Ameer had enjoyed with “The House of Adam”).  It is filmed mostly around Beckley, W. Va., and rather than preaching about the environmental damage done by the coal industry, it sets up a drama showing how the work affects the lives of ordinary miners and their families.  It is structured like a Robert Altman film, with intersecting stories, that do include tragedy.  Since there is a loss early, and since there is so much detail about the gritty life of the people, one can imagine David Lynch having done a project like this, with simply a different take and feel, perhaps brooding but not weird.

The film, at the opening, seems to focus on a young miner Amos Jenkins (Boyd Holbrook), relatively handsome and likeable and clean cut now, as he recovers from a mine accident that had resulted in head injury, and a limp and difficulty with speech.  He takes a computer job with the mining company, to the anger of other union miners, because he wants the satisfaction that he can work again. (It’s interesting that he has the skills for the job.)  During the course of the film, he seems to recover of his speech and ability to walk and do physical tasks, without more treatment, all of this unexpected and fortunate.  He takes care of a father who will die of black lung, and develops a relationship with the single mom (Elizabeth Banks) of a boy who has disappeared in the woods.  He also takes on a quasi fatherly relationship with another middle school boy Owen (Jacob Lofland, from “Mud”). 

Now, there is another Altman-like plot thread that we know all along. About twenty minutes into this 105-minute film, Owen and the missing boy are playing in the nearby woods, at the base of a mountain hollow and undamaged by the coal industry so far.  They have an argument, and Owen throws a stone at the boy.  It hits him in the temple and he falls unconscious.  A third boy, apparently with Downs Syndrome, is with them.  Rather than run for help, Owen cowardly (I’m projecting my own values) hides the crime for most of the film, and bullies the mentally challenged younger companion into keeping quiet. How this will unravel becomes a major plot point of the film.  At one point, Owen is in the boy’s room, which the mother has preserved.

There is also another subplot, a little less directed, about litigation against the coal company for the accident.  One of the characters, a plant manager, gets fired.

The Sundance site is here. The theatrical distributor will be Amplify Films.  (I would have expected larger companies like TWC to want this one.) 
After the screening, sold out, at the large MICA Brown auditorium, there was an extensive QA, and then an after-party about a half-mile away at the Festival Shed north of the Charles Street area.  We actually took a school bus as a shuttle to the party! Such is the Charm City.  (Don’t arrive there while an Orioles or Ravens game lets out.)    

The sound and digital projection quality of the films in all the venues was top notch. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Beckley W Va Exhibition Coal Mine;  I made a visit in May 1991. 

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