Jonathan Poritsky on Wednesday, May. 9th
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There’s a moment in HILL, the most recent installment of the This Must Be the Place series of shorts, that strikes me hard in the gut: Allan Hill, the film’s central character, looking out at the decrepit Packard plant in Detroit he calls home. The trees have no leaves, the landscape is one of cement and steel, of rust and garbage; a stray animal wanders around piles of refuse in the background. Viewing this and speaking to us, the viewers, Allan has this to say:
Everyone thought…kinda wondered why I’m here, you know? But then I look at myself and look at this place here. It looks like a perfect marriage.
This Must Be the Place is an ongoing film project from filmmakers Ben Wu and David Usui. They describe it as “series of short films that explore the idea of home; what makes them, how they represent us, why we need them.” HILL, which came out a bit over a month ago, is the fourth in the series, but the first one I’ve seen. It immediately made quick work for me of deciding what this week’s featured film would be.
The more documentaries about interesting characters I see, the more I am convinced there simply can’t be any more waiting in the wings to be filmed. Where, I always wonder, do these people come from anyway? The real art of documentary cinema is less technical and more visceral. Anyone can point a camera at a subject; it’s picking the subject that is the tough part. Allan Hill, hidden beneath the detritus of America’s once great city, is a great subject.
He never goes so far as to tell us what drove him to live in an abandoned plant because we don’t need to know. He’s a proud caretaker and the film’s only concern is how he lives. Hill has no plumbing, but he makes do in what he compares to living in a two-acre “farm with a roof over it.” He talks briefly about the troubled economy and how Detroit will one day make a comeback, but overall he is content to live his life as he sees fit. There is nothing ideological about the way he lives; it merely suits him.
For Wu and Usui’s part, the film is beautifully put together. The cinematography is spot on; their camera “gets” the space very well. They cover the massive plant from nearly every angle, but the focus always remains clearly on the space and its lone inhabitant. As we move through the space and Allan’s thoughts, there are some lovely, low tracks playing to boost us along. Again, they fit the space and the story nicely.
I point all of these technical details out because in my Internet video viewings I find that filmmakers’ egos obscure so many otherwise decent projects. HILL is a work of art, meticulously crafted to tell one man’s very specific story. I am yet to view the other films in the series, but I am excited to check them out. And This Must Be the Place is definitely a series I’m excited to see more of in the future.