The Island of St. Matthews: Film Review

Kevin Jerome Everson
More a tone poem or gallery installation piece than a verite outing.

Kevin Jerome Everson's experimental doc visits a small Mississippi community with a history of flooding.

NEW YORK — Prolific film and video artist Kevin Jerome Everson's The Island of St. Matthews visits a community near his parents' old hometown, talking to a generation or two of Mississippians accustomed to seeing their histories washed away by floods. The deliberately paced and obscure result will hypnotize some viewers but bore anyone expecting information or much beyond a (highly controlled) sense of place; outside a gallery or museum environment, only a handful of venues will be likely to book it.

Westport, a town near Columbus, Mississippi, saw flooding like clockwork for years until the construction of a $44 million lock and dam. Residents here frequently refer to a particularly devastating 1973 flood, one that swallowed irreplaceable photo albums and other precious family records. Everson's own family lore is referred to quickly by one man on camera, but that blink-and-miss-it fragment is the only hint at the reasons behind a project with no narration or explanatory titles.

What we get instead of prosaic detail is a cluster of images that return over and over: a man on water skis, baptisms, the operation of that lock and dam, instruction at a local school for beauticians. Water is the uniting theme — though in the case of the beauty school, where students must wash hair before styling it, the connection is pretty tenuous. Shots of an older man — a pastor, one presumes — clanging a large bell have no clear connection, unless one imagines such a bell serving as warning for bad weather on the horizon.

Everson's washed-out 16mm photography looks like it, too, has endured some abuse from the elements. As he uses up what seem to be entire reels of film on one handheld static shot after another (we watch water rise inside a lock for minutes at a time), viewers may feel the water absorbing bits of themselves as well.

Production Companies: Trilobite Arts DAC, Picture Palace Pictures
Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography-Editor: Kevin Jerome Everson
Producer: Madeleine Molyneaux
Music: Bonnie Gordon
Sales: Picture Palace Pictures
No rating, 64 minutes