Sundance 2023: All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, Fancy Dance, The Starling Girl | Festivals and awards

Jackson moves through the life of a young woman in the southern country at different stages of her life, allowing for a kind of poetic logic from one sequence to the next. She sets the tone with a long scene of two sisters fishing with their father, where the camera settles on hands far more than faces—a hand holding a rod, touching a fish, pushing into the riverbed, etc. She wants returning again and again to hands and using them to highlight the connections between these people and the natural world around them. Hands digging in the ground. Hands are temporarily held for a walk. Hands pat the back during a hug. She often hits people from behind and shows the backs of their heads as if we are walking with them down a dirt road. It’s a sharp, confident visual language that connects these people to the world around them and each other through something that feels both incredibly specific to the moment and easily relatable.

And then there is Jackson’s sound design, dominated by the natural world and with a sparing use of scores. No, the “music” of this movie comes from the cicadas or the rain pouring down on a roof. Again, it becomes more memory than reality or even dream. Most of us can remember days in the natural world when we were young. And you can almost smell the air in this film, a truly stunning achievement at a festival where this kind of ambitious tonal filmmaking is rare.

Ultimately, Jackson’s camera becomes almost like a character in “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt.” It moves through this world and its characters, capturing moments of heartbreak and moments of mundane everyday life, alternating between them like stains on a quilt. It’s a movie that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last 24 hours since I saw it, even though I watched other movies I admired. There’s something about this one that sticks. I imagine it will do it all year.

The other two American Dramatic Competition films in this program are more mainstream Sundance prizes, though they both also have admirable degrees of regional specificity. The couple’s parent is Erica Tremblay‘s “Fancy Dance,” a film with genuinely grounded performances that unfortunately falls apart a bit in a remarkably contrived final act. For a film dealing with tough issues and the tragic dynamics facing young women in Native communities, it commits itself to a series of scenes that are just too neat and tidy, but don’t reflect the pair of performances that never losing their rhythm.

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