Written & Directed by Lance Hammer
Starring Micheal J. Smith, JimMyron Ross & Tarra Riggs

Ballast is the story of how the suicide of one man effects his twin brother, ex-wife and son. The film begins with an exquisite shot of a young black male running in a field as a massive flock of birds takes off in flight. The brilliant title then fills the screen, causing a surprising emotional stir, considering it’s the first minute of the movie. Unfortunately, that holds as the peak of the movie’s power.

Next we see Lawrence, sitting on the couch in his obviously poverty effected home in the Mississippi Delta. Down the hall, lying in bed, is his dead twin brother. He has been there for a few days, but Lawrence is trapped by his despair. Fortunately, a concerned neighbour inquires about Lawrence’s wellness and calls an ambulance. Lawrence, along with his brother, ran the local convenience store together, but now he just stays at home. Marlee, the ex-wife eventually expresses interest in running the store with the help of her troubled young son, James.

This is Lance Hammer’s first feature film, which surprised me. This is a movie that sets out to be something and succeeds. I was fortunate to be present at a Q & A where he shed light on his inspiration. Hammer, when visiting the Mississippi Delta, felt a profound feeling of sadness and longing, particularly when in the poverty stricken area that he eventually filmed the movie in. He claims the landscape, housing and people made him feel this one thing so strongly that he wanted to put it in film. He uses several techniques to accomplish his goal; he casted local non-professionals; he gives the film a somber, blue tint; and made the decision to exclude all use of music. Hammer’s most interesting decision was to not use a script. Of course, he wrote a script, but only as a guideline. Hammer would just describe a scene to his actors and ask them to say what they naturally would. This is a move that certainly pays off. Hammer is able to successfully convey the aforementioned feeling in every frame of his picture, but that’s all Ballast really does.

The characters are merely there to help contribute to the mood. The plot is a little less than involving and a little more than slow-moving. While I admired the artistry and lack of convention, despite my best efforts, I found my mind wandering off a couple times. I feel a little guilty, because movies like this need support to live, but I can’t recommend it to everyone.

I have to elaborate on how much I love the title as it is so rare that there is any figurative thought behind one. Ballast is something that gives stability. Each of the characters in this film are recovering from the trauma of someone close to them taking his own life. Each person is looking for stability, so they can move on. I only wish that there was more to the film than a great title and a consistent mood.

It is clear that Lance Hammer is a very talented film maker who should go on to great things. His control over tone, mood and his use of the non-professional actors he personally casted are most impressive. Supporters of indie film, or actual aspiring film makers will likely enjoy as well as learn a few things from Ballast. Other movie goers may have trouble paying attention.