Ballast presents a debut director with a startling new viewpoint


on October 01, 2008 by Richard Mowe

The Mississippi Delta in winter provides the stark backdrop for this socially realistic drama by Lance Hammer, who not only directs, but also edits and writes.

All the characters are played by locals, none of whom had ever appeared in a film before, which makes their contributions all the more remarkable. Twelve-year-old James (JimMyron Ross) lives in straitened circumstances with his mother, Marlee, who struggles to eke out an existence for the two of them. While his mother spends many hours a day working in a poorly paid job, James is left to his own devices.

Wandering around the neighborhood, he gets to know a group of teenagers. Seeking to impress them, he agrees to use his motorbike to occasionally transport drugs for them and then finds himself turned on to crack. But when James is in danger of becoming the victim of an act of violence perpetrated by his buddies, Marlee (Tarra Riggs) runs away with her son across the water to where a middle-aged man named Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.) is living a on a small estate 15 miles away.

It appears at first that they may have found refuge here, but a deep and insoluble conflict resurfaces between Lawrence and Marlee that has existed since James’ birth. Marlee was the ex-girlfriend of Lawrence’s brother, who died from an overdose of pills after fathering James. When Lawrence discovered the body, he shot himself and was rushed to hospital—where only the skills of the staff manage to save his life.

Bearing a heavy burden of guilt, the suicidal Lawrence returns from hospital to an ominously empty house that no longer holds any hope for his own life. Finally, however, he realizes that James’s life is in real danger—and he has at least some of the means to help him.

Hammer’s script is spare and pertinent, without a wasted syllable, giving his characters believable voices against the bleak and grey canvas of the Delta farmlands, stunningly photographed by Lol Crawley. Ballast which premiered at Sundance before going on to impress European critics at the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year, marks the emergence of a filmmaker with a truly original style and viewpoint.

Alluvial Films
Cast: Micheal J. Smith Sr., JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail and Ventress Bonner
Director/Screenwriter: Lance Hammer
Producers: Lance Hammer and Nina Parikh
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: October 3 NY

Tags: teenagers, drugs, Micheal J. Smith Sr., JimMyron Rose, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail, Ventress Bonner, Lance Hammer

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