With a name like Uncertain, it was only a matter of time before the sleepy town caught the attention of film makers Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands who decided to make a documentary that delves into the secrets of its residents. The remote town, with a population of just 93, is located near the edge of Texas and sits upon Caddo Lake. The lake borders the state of Louisiana and has often been used as a means for criminals to travel between states undetected. The sheriff sets the tone for the film at the beginning by stating, “if you’re running from anywhere, Uncertain is a good place to hide, as it’s unlikely you’ll ever be found.”
Ironically the lake, which is the life support of the town, is also facing an uncertain future due to a weed called Salvinia which is damaging the ecosystem. But the narrative focuses primarily on three troubled men who are cocooned away in their own reality leading solitary, secluded lives. Zach is a 21 year old alcoholic and diabetic whose mother was taken into psychiatric care. In between jokes he spends his time drinking and lamenting the lack of women in the area but doesn’t have the willpower to leave.
Then there’s Wayne, a former convict and recovering addict who has developed a full blown obsession with a giant hog he is desperate to kill. He spends his nights dressed head to toe in camouflage gear armed with an array of guns in the hope of killing “lucky Mr Ed.” His ego hinges on the need to prove that the hog’s superior survival skills are no match for his hunting skills, and he seems to unravel when the hog continually eludes his bullets, and resorts to even blaming UFOs for the hogs uncanny ability to disappear.
The critical state of the lake is of particular concern to 78 year old Henry, a fisherman who depends on the lake for his livelihood. He lives a lonely existence sailing up and down the desolate river, his mind preoccupied with the past. Henry lost his daughter in a car accident and faced threats in his younger days when he chose to send his children to school to be educated “just like white people.” This led to accusations that he was an “Uncle Tom” which resulted in him shooting a man in self-defence.
Gradually, it unravels that each man has suffered and has a painful story to tell. All three men have an honest candour and open up in a way that has a transformative effect on the way you feel about them. At first, Wayne’s obsession with taking away the life of an animal just seems downright odd and his character isn’t particularly relatable. Then we witness him standing at the grave of a young man he killed in a car accident and breaking down with his self-analysis, “I have to believe I have some good in me to carry on.” This is a story of men trying to come to terms with painful memories in any way they can, as well as a powerful message about the danger of being stuck in the past.
The film is beautifully shot with bleak, eerie views of the overgrown lake that sprawls off into the empty Texas plains. The directors subtly convey the message that the men are creating their own self-made barriers to moving on. Wayne praises the warthog’s innate survival instinct which contrasts sharply with Zach’s self-inflicted damage to his own health as he lies on a hospital bed unable to curb his dependence on alcohol.
The filmmakers have succeeded in capturing a sense of bleakness that is very powerful and have carefully interwoven all three stories that are essentially about survival. Although the film has a bitter, melancholy feel to it, the narrative reaches a satisfying conclusion and all three men show how powerful hope can be.
Uncertain is released on March 10th