(Brandon Colvin’s new feature A Dim Valley will play as part of the Oxford Film Festival’s Virtual Film Fest screenings on Saturday, April 26 including a Q and A with Colvin at 8pm Central. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
Three men, three fairies, and the woods that bind them together — this is the fertile landscape of Brandon Colvin’s new feature A Dim Valley. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the meandering romance captures the life cycle of love, much like its character’s hope to capture the flora and fauna of their pastoral get away. Although much is left unspoken, the filmmaker lets the lush terrain say what is hard to put words to, that the natural places of the world are still the most magical places, and maybe we need a little more magic in our lives.
Dr. Clarence Rumble (a gruff Robert Longstreet) has returned to once again study the biology of the Appalachian Woods, a place that even he finds hard to quantify. His two graduate assistants, Ian and Albert (Zach Weintraub and Whitmer Thomas), seem more interested in smoking pot than capturing butterflies or categorizing moss. It doesn’t take a scientist to discern the cloud of sadness that hangs over their summer cabin, that is until the younger members of the research team stumble across three mysterious backpackers with the floral names Rose, Iris, and Reed. As the three 3 sex-charged nymphs invade their lives, as haphazardly as the scientific interlopers have stepped into their woodland territory, Ian and Albert discover their relationship with their advisor and each other changing quickly. And as for Dr. Rumble, he steps into the shadows long since cast over his present for the first time ever. Although the director sometimes stumbles over his own cosmology, the end result is an evocative and erotic drama that captures the flowering and wilting of love.
A Dim Valley exists in the nostalgic tradition of films like A Picnic At Hanging Rock and The Last Picture Show, films more about the places they are set than what actually happens, because it’s hard to pinpoint what actually happens. In this case, Colvin gives the place itself, the dim valley, the ability to affect the lives of its visitors. While Reed, Iris, and Rose could hardly qualify as completely-formed characters, their presence captures a need that the men in the film seem to be ignoring. Colvin never comes out and calls them fairies or nymph or whatever tradition you would like to embrace, but the trio operate far more like a force of nature then as separate entities with their own wills.
Acknowledging that allows me to almost overlook one of my main criticisms with A Dim Valley, the usage of transgender actress and singer-songwriter Feathers Wise as Reed, whose main purpose seems to be to encourage sexual proclivity. All too often transgender characters have been sidelined as the cinematic representation of sexual deviancy or at least far more carnal than everyone around them. While the entire troika of backpacker represent a stronger sensual push than any of the men in the film, Reed seems to serve no other purpose. It is she who constantly encourages people to take their clothes off and is given no other defining characteristic (Rose reads tarot, Iris like the quieter things in life). I also didn’t really understand the need to have the woodlands visitors smoking pot the whole time. To me it makes far more sense if they’re high is a natural one, as opposed to the poor replacement that Ian and Albert are trying to find. This may be part of the ever going need for Indie filmmakers to appear cool and have everyone do drugs all the time, for no reason, a big pet peeve of mine.
The film works best when it is out in nature, and long drawn-out shots from director of photography Cody Duncum capture the pure beauty of the world that we’ve turned our back on. This is a world of possibility, a world of endless love and opportunity. In stark contrast, the dinge and grime of the town hangs over the strongest scene in the film, where Dr Rumble stumbles upon a lost, now unattainable, love. When the fairies enter our world, such as in the penultimate scene in the hotel room, their magic allows magic to re-enter our lives. There’s a beautiful moment between Ian and Albert that begins with the simplest form of magic, Reed turning the telephone handset into a music speaker. It seems to be saying we only need a little to find our way.
A Dim Valley is a the sort of film that drives the existence of film festivals. It’s not a film that can ever hope to play for mass markets, but if it can find an audience it does have the power take our brain into an active place, something seldom achieved by films that are fast or furious. While the gorgeous cinematography suggests a place that’ll never truly be captured, the evocative story hangs in the mind long after the pictures fade.
– Bears Rebecca Fonte (@BearsFonte)