This is the year for visually striking films at the Milwaukee Film Festival, two of which are documentaries: The Great Alone, a snow-blinding look at the Alaskan Iditarod, and the astonishing clarity of Uncertain.
The latter film’s title is the name of a town – so small you have to be lost to find it – where the bayou-like body of water that is the town’s lifeblood is being choked by a pernicious weed critter thingy that science can’t stop.
Uncertain screens Saturday at the Oriental Theatre and Monday at the Avalon Theater in the Milwaukee Film Festival competition program.
It is about three characters: an elderly fishing guide courting a younger woman, a younger man with diabetes and a drinking problem and a hunter with a criminal past obsessed with stalking a dangerous boar.
Can a barbecue be far behind?
They are quirky personalities in a place well-practiced in nurturing them and allowing them to hide from the world when needed. This is the first feature for documentary short directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands and the lives portrayed feel parallel rather than intersecting.
But what distinguishes Uncertain is a visually persuasive sense of place.
We have seen a similar atmosphere portrayed in Beasts of the Southern Wild, in which the place and the characters are linked like cause and effect. This connection is more tenuous in Uncertain.
It is a shuffled deck of stark beauty – the swamp at night, low hanging fog, houses on stilts and animal eyes flickering at night in infrared lighting that turns a giant spider web fluorescent and water so thick with weeds so thick you could walk across it – each so rich they could be made into a still photo and framed.