Ballast Screening Locations and Dates

Sean Axmaker
“The story stays uplifting among the defeated in 'Ballast'

"Ballast," the debut feature directed by former special-effects artist Lance Hammer, is the cinematic equivalent of a miniature, a piece carved out of the stories of three troubled and damaged souls, and out of the culture and poverty of their small Mississippi Delta town.

Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.), all but shut down after the death of his brother, is so depressed that he attempts suicide. Marlee (Tarra Riggs), the brother's ex-wife, is desperately hanging on to a miserable job to sustain herself and her teenage son, James (JimMyron Ross), who is drifting into drugs and crime.

Where Lawrence is despondent and listless, Marlee is filled with rage and resentment. Running out of options, she and James move in to her ex's home on shared property with Lawrence. While it reignites a longstanding animosity between the adults, the fatherless James gives them reason to get beyond the past.

Hammer doesn't wander from their world or their perspective, and he doesn't stop to explain. From the first moments, as we're thrown into their lives as intimate observers, we get the textures of their lives before any context.

This ultra-low-budget, regional indie is filled with the kinds of textures, and the kinds of lives, you don't get with the polish of Hollywood. The crunch of the gravel as William and Marlee march between their homes is as defining as any dialogue (which is at times muddy and indistinct); you hear the world beneath their feet.

Hammer filmed on location with local nonactors. Their lack of polish is evident -- Smith's inexpressiveness, though part of his character, is simply blank at times -- but their conviction can be just as powerful. Riggs delivers a portrait of anger so all-consuming that it's exhaustion as much as necessity that gets her past blame and looking to the future.

It's ultimately quite touching and human, a small story of necessity and responsibility rousing defeated people that slowly unfolds and fills the film with the authenticity of its lives.”

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