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Ballast: The film with Mississippi Roots premieres at home

April 10, 2008

Ballast: The film with Mississippi Roots premieres at home

By Melanie Addington

Printed in the Oxford Eagle

”This is the closest I am going to get to the Oscars, so just bear with me,” Nina Parikh, producer of “Ballast” said to the audience on Saturday night at the Landmark Theater for the Crossroads Film Festival. As the Deputy Director of the Mississippi Film office, Parikh spends her days helping others to make films. As Associate Director of the Crossroads Film Festival, she spends her nights planning to help screen films in Jackson that Mississippians would not normally have the chance to see.

Among those films is “Ballast,” a film starring local actor, Johnny McPhail. “Ballast” is the story of how one man’s suicide affects three family members and how they eventually come to terms with this change in their lives. The film was shot entirely in Mississippi and used a cast and crew from the state including McPhail.

But for Parikh, the opportunity to see all the pieces come together as she looked out over the large theater filled with cast, crew, friends and family of this Mississippi-made movie was “really cool.”

Before the film began, Parikh thanked the cast and crew and told them that, “certainly the film would not have won two awards at Sundance, best director and best cinematography, without all of you contributing in some way.”

This won’t be the last opportunity to see the movie as Independent Film Channel bought the rights after its premiere in Sundance. The film is set for a theatrical release at the IFC Center on August 29 of this year with an extended release on the IFC cable channel shortly after.

McPhail said at the Q&A on Saturday that, “they like to tout this film as having non-actors, but I’d say these are pretty fine actors,” about co-stars Tarra Riggs, Michael J. Smith, Jr. and Jim Myron Ross. And he’d be right.

Variety stated that Hammer, “working with non-pro actors, pulls authentic performances from the trio that are at times almost too painful to witness.” Yes, Hammer definitely gets the most out of his actors, but anyone who sees Riggs stunning performance in this will definitely claim that she is a professional. The performances from everyone in the film are phenomenal and breathtakingly subtle.

However, it is not just the acting, nor the slow pacing that makes the film great. This is truly a lovely work of cinematography and editing. Lol Crawley, the director of photography, sets the tone of the film from the first moment of the opening scene. Jim Myron Ross’ character, James, runs through a field that disturbs hundreds of white birds as they escape into the sky. Hammer’s style of direction is very minimalist in that every shot is edited to get the most out in the shortest time.

Yet, he captures minor details that make the gritty realistic tone of the film. For a brief second we watch as a roach scurries over the kitchen wall. We also watch as Smith, Jr.’s character, Lawrence, scrubs his own blood off the wall after his suicide attempt. These are subtle points of the story to help the audience. The walls are physically real on set; yet, stand for so much more in the movie as the characters began to find ways to break through the barriers around them.

After the film, the cast spoke briefly to the audience. As Ross said that, “they took this kid from Canton and saw what he could do,” the other star, Juneau the dog broke in with a howl, impatient for his turn to speak. Tarra Riggs thanked everyone in the audience, noting that there is, “nothing like working with friends and family.”

”I’m just happy that they were showing it here in Mississippi. I’ve been to Sundance, and Berlin, and this has been the more nerve wracking festival. We did it together, a part of Mississippi, we have represented this state. No one can say we are not capable of making a $20 million film in MS,” said Riggs.

”This did not cost us $20 million to make,” clarified Parikh. With laughter, the “Ballast” Mississippi premiere ended. But you can follow the film on IFC to find out when you can see it at http://www.ifcfilms.com.

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