Kelsie Moore’s The Gray Area takes its title from a term used to describe an American lower middle class which finds itself on the brink of viability. It is best defined through a question: ”Where do you live when you can’t get into subsidized housing but also can’t afford a place of your own? It’s a level of poverty they call The Gray Area.” Barely enough to keep body and soul together, as they say—the working poor.
One-woman-crew Kelsie Moore uses her camera to look into the soul of these bodies, applying an unbiased documentarian’s eye to the circumstances of mother Cory, father Skip, and their son Seren, with warmth and understanding. The logline isn’t catchy, and the tone isn’t agitating, but the film is, nonetheless, incredibly moving, thanks to Moore’s patient craft and empathetic tenor, both of which are credits to the most literal connotation of her chosen medium.
The desert scenery of their trailer home and the city of St. George lend themselves to some beautiful imagery shot by Moore and the score by Brian Casey Lee creates the necessary mood to draw us in. The film never exploits the situation solely for cinematic purposes however, keeping the focus on the family with an honest interest in what they have to say.
It is one of the many feats of Kelsie Moore’s The Gray Area that it doesn’t attempt to make a grand socioeconomic statement. It is a political film exactly because it explicitly is not political, but personal. Implied however is a general knoweldge of an income gap that is ever-widening and social safety net measures that are continuing to being scrubbed—this family represents those who live in a financial state that is becoming increasingly common throughout the country.
The Gray Area is an unadorned look at those who have fallen through the cracks of society, but Moore uses her perceptive filmmaking sensibilities to create a touching portrait that’s neither patronizing nor looking down on the film’s protagonists. The film is a simple, empathetic insight into the lives of people that are rarely taken seriously. Where other content producers tend to discount or fetishize their lives and struggles, Moore takes the time to listen and tell their story.
Kelsie Moore is an Australian documentary director and cinematographer based in Utah and currently makes short docs for NPR Utah’s RadioWest Films, which is how The Gray Area originated. The film was inspired by the reporting of one of her colleagues, David Fuchs, that included an image of Skip and caught the filmmaker’s attention. “There was something raw, rough and vulnerable in his face and body. From that image, I knew there was more to uncover,” Moore explains.
“Despite working alone on production in 110-degree heat, I wanted to create a documentary that had as high a production-value as possible in spite of those limitations. I knew that this film would only work if the family trusted me and that they could be vulnerable and natural with me in the confined space of their trailer.“ – Kelsie Moore
While we’re familiar with incredible short documentary work coming from larger media companies—such as with multi-time S/W alums Lance Oppenheim for the NyTimes Op-Docs strand, or Charlie Lyne’s work with The Guardian—it is heartening to see work of this quality being produced at institutions of less renown too, such as a regional NPR affiliate. Media’s pivot to video was a damaging flop in recent years, so for aspiring non-fiction storytellers who want to follow in Kelsie Moore’s footsteps and make short documentary films, it is inspiring to see work of this quality designed to serve a local audience, and we are proud to do what we can to amplify its reach to our global community.