Nothin' No Better
2020, NR, 65 min. Directed by Ben Powell.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 15, 2020
Small towns don't die. They dissipate. One store shutters, a family moves away, an old resident dies, and there's no one to take on their house, so it starts to fade, leaving a vapor of its former self.
Rosedale, Miss., is on the cusp of that vapor phase. It used to be somewhere, if only in pop culture (legend has it that hellhound-hunted bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil on the south end of town), but now it's a thousand residents and change, most of them too old or too poor to move. Directing siblings Ben and Bo Powell follow - often at great distance - a selection of these Rosedale holdouts for Nothin' No Better.
A natural pairing with Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas' recent ethnographic study of rurban Florida, Pahokee (no surprise that both films were recipients of Austin Film Society Grants), Nothin' No Better hides what must have been a staggering amount of research and time spent in the community to get so many voices into such a small package. There's no sit-down interviews - the only direct interaction with the filmmakers are a few brief portrait shots in front of a hastily hung sheet. Instead, a representative cross section of the townfolk gets a few minutes each in front of the camera, undertaking the most mundane of tasks. Each momentary glimpse of a life feels fleeting, yet the end result is like walking through a small town art gallery, where every picture is by a local artist who captures something raw, small, and organic. It's not the moments, but the entirety that create the real picture. The way it's rare to see black and white folks on the same porch. How every vehicle is either a beat-up midsize sedan, a real work truck, or a semi. The hand-me-down feel of the patchwork uniforms the high school football team wears as they practice on a scrub-surrounded field. How a good night out is a night in playing dominos at a friend's house.
There's an undeniable sense of slow decay, and of the oldest residents living out their last years in this place of settled comfort - like a worn-out arm chair that's shaped to the way they sit. Yet this isn't a retirement community. While the oldest residents are a constant, and there seems to be a void of anyone between their tweens and filing for Medicaid. But the glimmer of a new Rosedale, or at least a future for the old town, shine through. If the kids hanging out shooting the breeze, or the serious teenager who spends his spare time at church or bumping in his cracked-windscreen car, decide to stick around, Rosedale may not fade away quite yet.
Nothin' No Better is currently available through Vimeo's initiative whereby streaming “tickets” can be bought through virtual ticket booths for local arthouse cinemas. Choose from:
• AFS Cinema (Link)