A highlight of the 2020 Wisconsin Film Fest that wasn’t, UW-Madison alum Brandon Colvin’s latest will be virtually available to stream on May 31.
There has been a void in our lives for the past two months that can only be filled by sitting in a celluloid cathedral. During The Great Pause, many of us have had to rely on streaming services to attempt to fill this void. Granted, there are a certain number of people who don’t go see movies in theatres (who are these weirdos?), but fortunately Netflix has had to step up their game as reasonable people continue shelter-in-place. As this year’s typical theatrical binge at Wisconsin Film Festival was cancelled due to COVID-19, I was able to curate my own mini-festival at home. One Wisconsin Film Festival 2020 selection that took me far away was writer-director Brandon Colvin’s A Dim Valley (2020). Luckily, it will widely be available to stream for one day only, on May 31, as part of the virtual Ashland Film Festival.
Colvin, who earned his PhD from UW-Madison and ran the Micro-Wave Cinema Series before leaving in 2018 for his current job as a professor of film at the University of Arkansas, rewards patient viewers with a masterful stroke from start to finish in his most recent entry. Fans of Sabbatical (which screened at the 2014 WFF) will appreciate another stellar performance from Robert Longstreet, playing an ecology professor who, along with two of his male graduate students, collects flora and fauna samples for research. Ian (Zach Weintraub) is quiet and understated, while Albert (Whitmer Thomas) is Goofus to Ian’s Gallant. Albert can grate on one’s nerves upon first presentation, but as the relationship between the characters unfolds, Thomas brings out a bit more depth beneath the layers of Albert’s galling behavior. After he gets stoned one evening in the field with Ian, they have an encounter with three pixie-like women (Rosalie Lowe, Rachel McKeon, and Feathers Wise) who alter their lives forever. What follows is reminiscent of Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) with lush cinematography and a narrative that escorts the viewer on a dreamlike journey in hushed cinematic tones.
The surreal summer beauty of Kentucky’s countryside plays off the magical realism of the story in a delicate and loving way as the characters’ lives entangle. While the narrative is tightly woven, an airiness to the structure makes it compulsively watchable. That same lightness seems to belie the intensity of the film’s final scene of skillful metaphor that would no doubt play best on the big screen. For those hoping to keep up with Colvin, who’s really come into his own with A Dim Valley, hopefully it’s not much longer before it returns as an officially scheduled screening. For now, Film Festival Flix is offering a home-viewing chance for national audiences.