Like an anthropologist with a touch of the poet, indie filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson continues his long-term project of observing African-Americans’ everyday lives with the short feature, “Spicebush.” Shifting between doc and staged narrative with no demarcation between the two, Everson tells the seemingly mundane story of the transport of furniture from an Ohio supplier to a Mississippi grade school. Impressionist layering, varying imagery and the breaking of the story into 17 chapters makes for a strange experience. Art-leaning fests and specialized exhibitors should show keen interest.
Early effect is like thumbing through an extended family photo album, as trucker Pleas Everson, his assistant Decarrio Couley, furniture supply rep Marcia Kennon and school principal Evan Caine are intro’d in brief snippets that grow more and more extended as each chapter unfolds. Dashing about a yard and having all sorts of a fun is a little girl (Matilda Washington, unidentified in the film), who becomes a carefree spirit amid all the adult wrangling.
Each person is viewed foremost as a dedicated worker. Pleas is proud of his years as both a school bus driver and longhaul trucker, while Couley is much shier and taking on the burden of another job in a brick-making factory. Stuck behind a desk or looking bored in the office break room, Kennon seems to have the loneliest job, as she handles clients on the phone and monitors orders.
Caine, by contrast, is involved with every aspect of his school, and Everson’s camera takes in the school through his eyes.
Pic can be seen as a kind of cubist documentary, so that only through gradual bits of information do we gather the furniture Kennon is supplying and is being transported by Pleas and Couley is to be delivered to Caine’s school.
Such a fracturing of information, interrupted by playful asides and by tidbits including an explanation of the pic’s title (Mississippi’s state butterfly is the Spicebush Swallowtail), will annoy viewers accustomed to a standard doc format — and it may seem this particular subject isn’t suited to a deconstructionist style. But the full emotional effect of “Spicebush” comes after it’s over, as an observant viewer puts together the full picture.
Pacing is sluggish, and chapter breaks give the impression of a longer pic, but vid and 16mm lensing is straightforward and unpretentious. Music by Derek Berml and David Reid is a plus.