All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt [Sundance]
Sundance Snapshot*: Writer/director Raven Jackson's feature debut, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, offers a complex and lyrical meditation on Black life best described as sumptuous.
Director: Raven Jackson
Screenwriters: Raven Jackson
Starring: Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Reginald Helms Jr., Zainab Jah, Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk
Runtime: 1 hr 32 minutes
Synopsis: A decades-spanning exploration of a woman's life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us.
*originally originally run on January 28, 2023 part of the MTR Network's Sundance 2023 coverage
There simply aren't many films about a Black woman's life created to navigate varied milestones and trials without treating its lead female character and the larger "idea" of woman (especially with respect to motherhood) as passive; seemingly without a sense of active involvment. Life "happens" to its women. Thankfully, in All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, memory is the vehicle of exploration, one deeply rooted in embracing the role agency. Its a laconic and sprawling journey, that weaves forwards and backwards through time, recalling in vivid sound (score by Sasha Gordon and Victor Magro) and vibrant color (cinematographer Jomo Fray), the highs and lows of a life richly lived.
Jackson's pacing is deliberately meditative and nonlinear. The cinematograpy essential to creating an immersive pastoral experience. Both choices build a world that utterly surrounds audiences in Mackinze's (Kaylee Nicole Johnson and Zainab Jah) -the central protagonist- emotions and unfolding recollections. If you required a rigid narrative framework to stay engaged and feel as though a story is building to something, then the weaving style of All Dirt Roads may not work for you. But its rhythmic and floating stlye is an audiovisual delight that flows through the deep South and invites you to navigate the myrid of moments that come to define what it means to be Mack. There are lessons to be learned here but none are delivered with a sledgehammer. They hit hard nonetheless.
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt uses its interconnected vingettes to examine kinship and love, heartbreak and sorrow, fear and trust, with an intuative understanding that its Mack's choices, good and ill, driving which direction the story flows next. It's a subtle, yet poignant, tale that highlights the value and pain of introspection. The lack of chronological unraveling denies the audience the convenience of shortsightedness. Something easy to fal into with more compartmentalized storytelling. It instead, drives home how even the most inconsequential moments have ripple effects that shape how we relate to others, how we make decisions, and who we ultiamtely become. It's a haunting reminder delivered with poetic symmetry, that taking the longview and owning the consequences of the choices you make (as well as those made for you) along the way is how wisdom is evolves.
Built on exception performances by an astoundingly talented ensemble and held together by some of the best visual storytelling you'll see this year, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, will change how you think about generational storytelling, and portraits of Black life on film, if you let it.
A24 will release All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt November 3, 2023 for a limited theater run.
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