At this point, simply calling the team at Whitestone Pictures talented would be an understatement of hyperbolic proportions. With a staggering number of gorgeous short films already in their portfolio (some of which have been featured on this site), it’s safe to say that this Atlanta based boutique company is on a different level than most indie-shops. The newest edition to their folkloric canon comes as a retelling of the old American tall tale, John Henry and the Railroad. Much like the team’s other work, John Henry is part musical, part fable, part love letter to American nostalgia. The result is a mythic concoction that is decidedly “Whitestone”—a feel good fantasy about hard work, the american dream, and a big ole’ set of hammers.
John Henry fits in neatly with the team’s oeuvre, taking the established story of the African American folk hero and giving it new life. As usual, Writer/director Brandon McCormick deftly leads his audience into a wonderfully crafted world—a place where allegory and reality collide, where men truly can move mountains.
As one might expect, the production value is astonishing. Beyond looking pretty (seriously, it looks really, really pretty), the production design elements are through the roof. From period props and costumes to a full-fledged antique steam engine, McCormick and company may have outdone themselves this time. Frankly, the indie filmmaker in me is flabbergasted that a production like this is even possible—the sheer scope and production quality of the film even more impressive to me than the tall tale they are attempting to tell on camera.
Stylistically, the stuff from Whitestone either works for you or it doesn’t. The team members don’t attempt to hide the fact that they wear their heart on their sleeve, that the stories they are telling aren’t lean and simple, but rather meant to be big, bold, and in your face. Subtly certainly isn’t this film’s strong point. But, for this soft-hearted curator with a penchant for musical theater, I’d argue that “understated” isn’t even a part of Whitestone’s vocabulary. Rather, they want to tell a story that is truly larger than life. So, give up the next twenty minutes of your day, sit back, relax, and be amazed by the craftsmen at Whitestone’s newest tall tale. I have a feeling your heart will be warmed, your spirits enlivened, and your feet will be uncontrollably tapping along with the beat. Grit, sweat, and love, indeed.