As alums of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Indie Film, we like to check out the new additions every year. In 2012 I attended a screening of work from that year’s crop and this short, The Gathering Squall, was the standout. It had played SXSW a few months before, and its present, hand-held camera-work creates an easy intimacy with its USA small-town characters, the types of which tend to be caricatures or stereotypes when written by big-city filmmakers. Here however they felt rich, complicated and real. While the film is a dark tragedy of adolescent sexuality, petulance and revenge, the discovery of the film and its filmmaker, Hannah Fidell, was a delight.
I wanted it for SotW then, and now over a year later I get the chance to share it with you. It has been released online as a free extra to promote Fidell’s feature film debut, A Teacher, available now on Vimeo On Demand, and hitting theaters starting tomorrow. The feature played Sundance this year, and is an auspicious debut, furthering Fidell’s preoccupations with interesting, but damaged female heroines. I saw it at Sundance, and highly recommend checking it out.
Back to the short though. Based off a story by Joyce Carol Oates, the film is patient in playing its hand. An early scene is a long car ride that is charming in its depiction of inexperienced flirting. The film could in theory go a lot of directions from the point: serious romance, light rom-com, even comedy. There is something about the austerity of the surroundings and the spareness of the filmmaking that tips its hand though, and as a viewer you expect it to go wrong. While the film closes on a shocking action, that scene feels unnecessary, the earlier tragedy is much more interesting and effective, both in a transfixing, slow-motion car wreck sort of way, but also in the way it fails to completely and definitively incriminate Duncan. The film is that sense is effective at illustrating the frustratingly large divide we have in our culture over rape, and the often gender-based divide in how to interpret assault.
While a heavy 12 minutes, The Gathering Squall is wonderful example of American dramatic short filmmaking, and a useful introduction to a filmmaking talent we are sure to see much more of.