Sure, the Sundance Film Festival may be better known than it’s younger and less talked about sibling, Slamdance, but if last year’s Grand Jury Prize winner is any sign, the latter may be just as thrilling a source for new independent voices, if not more so, than it’s legendary counterpart.
Welcome To Pine Hill arrives in theaters over a year after making waves at Slamdance 2012, winning the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and after a long road snatching up prizes everywhere from the Seattle International Film Festival to the Atlanta Film Festival, it has proved to be one of the indie world’s most hotly talked about features. And thankfully, it more than lives up to the hype.
Based on, or more so a self described “extension” of director Keith Miller’s original short film Prince/William, the film follows the story of a young man, Shannon, who has gotten out of a life as a drug dealer and now become an insurance claims adjuster. However, when he discovers something quite upsetting about his health, we become privy to a man on the brink of the end of his life trying to come to peace with his life and the world around him. Brazenly intimate and bombastically quiet, Welcome To Pine Hill is a slow burn of a character study, but one full of emotion and power.
Shannon Harper is a revelation. He takes on the role of Shannon, a young man who discovers that he has an extremely rare form of cancer, and gives an early contender for one of the best lead performances of 2013. In a film chock full of personal and intimate moments, he is in just about every frame of this film, and gives us a thrilling journey of a man who broke out of a life of drugs and violence, and now finally done something with his life. Following the diagnosis, he attempts to make peace with all the demons in his respective closet, and with this performance he gives us a great breadth, and depth, of emotion ranging from the ease he finds hanging with his boys all the way to the melancholy and sadness felt alone in a forest. It’s just a thrilling bit of acting from a young up and coming actor.
Often finding comparisons to a director like John Casavettes, Keith Miller’s direction here lacks the kinetic nature that made a film like Faces so damn thrilling, but doesn’t lack the intimacy. More apt to a comparison like early Ingmar Bergman, the film is as great a directing piece as it is an acting piece. Miller’s film is quiet, lusciously photographed and with a camera unwilling to flinch, Welcome To Pine Hill is as powerful as it is not only thanks to the tour de force performance in front of the camera, but as well as the man behind it. Miller also wrote and edited the film, thus one can truly see his hand over the entire film, and combined with the collective of cinematographers working here as well as composer Michael Rosen, whose score is absolutely vital to this feature, it proves to be as intriguing and moving an independent release as we have seen to date in this still very early year.
Introspective independent releases come about as often as any type of feature film in what is now the modern American film landscape. However, very few are as potent and affecting as this new feature from director Keith Miller. Featuring a star making lead performance and some of the most intriguing photography around, this is a touching meditation on a man’s journey to not only come to peace with those around him, but even more so with himself. It’s a beautifully crafted, and touchingly melancholy drama that is one that should not be missed.