“Little Woods” at the 2018 Citizen Jane Film Festival

"Little Woods" at the 2018 Citizen Jane Film Festival

Diana Panuncial, E23 Staffer

Little Woods” is New York-based director Nia DeCosta’s feature film debut and a recipient of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award, where it had its world premiere on April 21. The film, a gritty drama thriller, was Citizen Jane’s 11th opening night film on Friday, Nov. 2 at the Stephens College’s Windsor Auditorium.

Before the film, Citizen Jane director Barbie Banks and programming director Donna Kozloskie hit the stage.

“This film is a sort of update on the western,” Kozloskie said. “When I first saw it, I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t what I expected.”

Before the screening of “Little Woods”, Citizen Jane shows a dance performance inspired by the film. Photographed by E23 Staffer Diana Panuncial.

After Banks and Kozloskie spoke, Stephens College put on a dance dedicated to and inspired by the film.

Starring Tessa Thompson as Ollie and Lily James as her younger sister Deb, “Little Woods” follows the two sisters as they struggle to earn money in order to save their childhood home from foreclosure and to give Deb a place to stay with her son and expected newborn.

It begins with Ollie, who is on probation for getting caught running drugs at the US/Canadian border. She is constantly pressured by her old customers to provide drugs, namely oxycodone, both for recreational use and to relieve severe pain.

 

However, because she has only been on probation for a little over a week and is hoping to move away from home in order to find better opportunities, she avoids the drug business in her North Dakota town.

On the other hand, Deb is living in a trailer home with her young son Johnny. She discovers she is pregnant by her old boyfriend, but she is unable to depend on him due to his financial struggles as well. Her conflict throughout the film is with her pregnancy, and how she would be able to fund it without insurance or even a penny to her name.

Throughout the film, there are heavy themes of women’s rights, Medicare, class and living with extremely low income. These themes make for a harder watch because they are the horrors of real life, only balanced somewhat with smaller, warmer moments between the two sisters and Deb’s son.

For example, once Ollie tells Deb that she plans to move north for a better job, the realization comes that Deb will be all alone taking care of her son. They plan to save their childhood home from foreclosure so Deb can live in it, however, they cannot come up with the $3,000 in the week it takes to save it. To make that large amount of money in a small time frame, Ollie turns back to running drugs despite having to keep herself out of trouble to get out of probation.

Kozloskie said that DaCosta was worried the film wouldn’t stay relevant.

“It was about social issues and a lot of American issues, and she was afraid that America would become such a utopia that it wouldn’t be relevant anymore,” she joked. “But things have changed, and it’s more relevant than we can possibly imagine, unfortunately.”

Thompson’s performance is a must-see, hitting both the sensitivity and toughness a woman must have in order to protect and save her family. She is likable in her role as Deb’s older sister and it is easy for the audience to relate to her, and at many times, root for her.

James’ performance is more heartbreaking, as her character is dealing with having to raise a child on her own and even having to consider abortion. She delivers raw emotion, and yet, hopefulness to her character.

Along with directing the film, DaCosta also wrote the screenplay, and successfully intertwines many oppressive forces with two strong female leads, making her work ideal for the opening night of the festival. Her writing is undoubtedly bleak and is more of a slow burn that keeps you on your toes, but at the same time filled with heart.

Set in a fracking boom town in North Dakota, the film also offers beautiful cinematography by Matt Mitchell. In between scenes, the visuals of oil fracking are captivating and simultaneously a desolate sight.

Wide open shots of Midwestern scenery show the vastness of the setting, especially when the film captures passages of time in sunrises and sunsets. The film’s cinematography is for the most part still and clean, with tension-lifting close ups of certain characters and intense moments.

The music by Brian McOmber is also a significant element of the film that grounds viewers into the setting. It features Americana-folk songs by female artists and even a blues-rock song fueled with anger during one of the film’s hardest moments.

The ending of the film was left somewhat ambiguous, with Ollie and Deb fulfilling some desires to offer some hope for their story. Overall, “Little Woods” was a slow, quiet watch that kept the audience of Citizen Jane audibly reacting when its grittier moments hit the screen.

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