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(The 2024 Tribeca Film Festival runs June 5-16, and as always, we have many boots on the ground. Check out Chris Reed’s Driver movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

How often do we think about the way our food and other goods arrive at a destination near us, assuming we are not already involved in that transportation process? Whether by air, sea, or land, they travel towards consumers through a vast network of roads, waterways, or skyways. And someone is at the controls of the particular vehicle, ship, or plane. In Driver, director Nesa Azimi’s debut feature documentary, which takes an engaging cinéma-verité approach to its subject, we follow a group of dedicated women behind the wheel of long-haul trucks, experiencing the highs and lows of the job.

Principal among the film’s subjects is Desiree Wood, who turned life’s challenges into an opportunity by downsizing her world to fit inside the space of a truck cab. As Driver begins, she is on the job, conveying her loads across the country, images of the great (and less so) American landscapes passing by, her window acting as a second frame within the frame. It seems a decent occupation, if you can handle the hours.

Or is it? Desiree is also the founder of REAL Women in Trucking (RWIT), an advocacy group for her fellow female drivers, who often suffer harassment and assault in their training and beyond. Many of them are past victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, as well. Desiree herself discusses being raped in her own home, way back when. A former stripper, she also compares how in that former job, she felt more supported when she reported unwanted attention than she does now.

Other difficulties that she and others face are financial. There are fewer shipments than before, and therefore fewer paychecks. On top of that, the cost of leasing one’s own truck is prohibitive, and the predatory lending policies of the relevant companies only make it worse. Desiree may not be able to keep her wheels for long. It’s heartening to know that at least she has a supportive community by her side, one she helped create.

We meet additional drivers, too, including the chain-smoking Michelle Kitchin (who is just as likely to have a Twizzlers in her mouth as a cigarette) and Frances McDormand-look-alike Idella Hansen. They offer a variety of perspectives, along with the rest of the women in RWIT. Some see the gig as akin to a vacation, where you get to see the country and get paid for it, while others find it more exhausting. Most think the rampant misogyny in the industry is a problem that needs to be fixed. All find solace in sisterhood.

The beauty of Azimi’s approach is how it brings the viewer along in gentle harmony with her protagonists. We watch, listen, and form our own judgments. Though the choice of what to show remains in the director’s capable hands, there’s a bracingly direct aesthetic that makes her presence nearly invisible. It’s almost as if we are driving these roads ourselves, an idea reinforced by the final images. Perhaps, then, we will think of them in solidarity the next time we pass a truck, and give a friendly wave.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2024 Tribeca Film Festival; Driver documentary movie; Nesa Azimi

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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