Kevin Jerome Everson has been working for fewer than two decades but has already amassed a prodigious body of work, including a huge number of short films. A number of his features and a few short films were presented online as part of a retrospective on Mubi in 2018, which introduced this filmmaker to my attention. Clearly he has his themes and his interests, but with so many films it’s difficult to give more than a hint at his distinctive style.
This is Kevin Jerome Everson’s first full-length film, and it sets up a lot of what he’d go on to deal with in his very minimal observational style, albeit chopped up until little vignettes presented as chapters. A number of people go about their daily lives in Mississippi — I understand the title refers to the state’s native bird — though it can be difficult to perceive just what links them all, and the filmmaker provides little in the way of hand-holding.
Director/Writer/Cinematographer Kevin Jerome Everson; Length 68 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Wednesday 7 November 2019.
I’ve now watched a handful of Everson’s documentaries on Mubi, a filmmaker I’d never before encountered, and it’s clear already that he has a vision that is consistent and every bit as carefully honed (or moving in that direction) as, say, Frederick Wiseman or any other vaunted documentarian. He focuses on people doing what they do, sometimes talking about it but much of the time just engaged in whatever their thing is — here it’s drag racing — but not in a way that panders to those who aren’t familiar with the topic. For example, plenty of people have criticised this film for not actually showing much drag racing, but that really doesn’t seem to be what the film is interested in; instead what we get are people just following their passions, which may be technical and even (to the viewer) a little bit dull. This makes the film a bit aggravating to watch a time, but it builds up a particular sort of minimalist rhythm that becomes more pronounced in Everson’s later works (this was one of his earliest at feature length, I believe).
Director/Writer/Cinematographer Kevin Jerome Everson; Length 71 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Monday 5 November 2019.
The Island of Saint Matthews (2013)
Returning to his Mississippi roots, the filmmaker talks to locals about their community, in which a 1973 flood comes up as a defining moment. This becomes a film about the memories of the past, and the way that the water can wash it away — whether via the repeated shots of baptisms in the river, of a waterskier coasting down the huge waterways that surround this place, of an operator of an enormous canal lock opening and closing the sluice gates. It’s all quite minimal in the way it unfolds, but the voices of the people and the overwhelming presence of water come through clearly.
Director/Cinematographer Kevin Jerome Everson; Length 70 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Friday 5 October 2019.
Ears, Nose and Throat (2016) [short film, black-and-white]
A beautiful and deceptively simple film in its form, showing grainy nighttime images of a neighbourhood, followed by a hearing test being administered by a doctor on a woman. Her experiences are then recounted, allowing us to make the connection between the doctor’s test and the experiences, suggesting something of her life and by extension those of her wider community.
Director/Cinematographer Kevin Jerome Everson; Length 11 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Tuesday 23 October 2019.
Tonsler Park (2017) [black-and-white]
This documentary depicting a Charlottesville polling station during the 2016 US elections is an exercise in minimalism: almost all the words we hear are background chatter, while the camera is focused entirely on the (Black) people who are working behind the desks to help voters register and a lot of the time this view is blocked by the bodies standing at their tables. Therefore it’s likely to test a lot of people’s patience, and may seem at times more suited to a gallery installation. That said, it has a certain hypnotic rhythm to it, and the faces of these volunteers at work, alternately serious and jovial, despite everything, held my attention for the entire running time.
Director/Cinematographer Kevin Jerome Everson; Length 80 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Friday 19 October 2019.