Not only is Welcome to Pine Hill one of the best indie films of the year, but it features one of the best performances from a non-actor in recent memory.
Welcome To Pine Hill
Winner of the jury prize at Slamdance 2012, Keith Miller’s Welcome to Pine Hill is about a man who attempts to right the wrongs in his life upon receiving news that his time on this Earth has been cut short. Given the subject matter, the film is incredibly subtle. However, its intimate approach of a man’s journey of self-discovery yields more emotional impact than one would think. Even though the film features a quiet and simple tone, the results are anything but muted or plain.
It is unclear how long it has been since Abu (Shannon Harper) converted into a more corporate lifestyle, leaving his drug hustling days behind him. But just when things are beginning to look up for Abu, now working as a claims adjuster for a car insurance company, he receives some devastating news. After experiencing abdominal pains and frequent vomiting, Abu visits the doctor where he is diagnosed with a rare type of stomach cancer.
As the gravity of the situation slowly settles in, realizing that he is dying from something he cannot even pronounce let alone control, Abu decides to make amends with the people around him. His first stop is back home where he pays back the money borrowed from his estranged mother, who has a hard time believing the money is not dirty from selling drugs. Because he never tells his mother about his condition, it makes the situation even more poignant when he insists on getting a picture of her to remember her by. But not all of his amends are about repaying debts with cash. Some are fulfilled by simply spending time with old acquaintances one last time.
The film avoids many of the pitfalls and common clichés found in films that deal with cancer by carefully introducing this issues but never overplaying its hand. A common mistake films about cancer make typically involves accomplishing lavish “things to do before you die” type goals. Whereas Welcome to Pine Hill takes on a much more unselfish approach by having him merely settle his own restitutions before he passes.
If the recent verdict of the George Zimmerman trial has taught us anything, it is that racism in this country is sadly still a pertinent issue. In Welcome to Pine Hill race and class stereotypes are brought up and handled in a way that is thankfully not preachy or heavy-handed. The most prominent display of this is when Abu retreats to a small town (Pine Hill) near the Catskills where he is an outsider, yet is never treated as such. In fact, he is welcomed as the title suggests. It is ironic when you learn that the director of the film is white, considering the underlying theme of preconceived stereotypes towards the black community.
Not only is Welcome to Pine Hill one of the best indie films of the year, but it features one of the best performances from a non-actor in recent memory. The film wisely trades a complex plot for a minimalistic one and focuses more on an ambient observation of reactions rather than causes. While race and class certainly play large roles in Welcome to Pine Hill, the overall meaning how we choose to live our own lives and deal with tragedy is universal and colorless.