Virgina Yearick’s narrative-documentary feature, Possum Kingdom, will be playing online for 24 hours at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on June 4th. On a dilapidated South Carolina family farm, Yearick shows the simultaneous boredom and comfort of three generations of men who live there. The film features a documentary and fiction genre blend, which emphasizes their lives as that of a dream and of steady decay. Possum Kingdom stars both first-time actors, non-actors, and people playing alternate versions of themselves.
The film opens with a wide shot of a young boy playing basketball – wind and the sound of the basketball hitting the pavement is the only audio heard, establishing the film’s documentary elements. Gunshots/fireworks scare the boy and his friend, who has joined him. These types of long, wide shots are seen throughout the entirety of the film, positing the audience as an observant fly on the wall. We observe these farmers living through their monotonous routine, of sowing and planting. The coloring of this film is thoughtfully bright, creating whimsy in the monotony. There’s a beautiful camaraderie seen in their routine; the older men teach the young boys the lay of the land. The lack of music makes for an extremely immersive experience and further adds to the documentary features of the film. Every sound heard is diegetic, placing the viewer directly into the film.
These southern farmers' unexpected beauty and kindness is juxtaposed with the prevalent political turmoil and racism of where they live. A wide shot of a barren freeway features a confederate flag flying high; this shot precedes a young white man bringing his elderly black neighbor food. Their friendship and free-flowing conversation is surprising yet endearing, adding to the heartwarming nature of Yearick’s film. The film returns to their relationship multiple times throughout the narrative-documentary, emphasizing the innate kindness of the misunderstood.
The youngest farmer learning the ropes is especially interesting to watch. He exhibits the childlike wonder of a young boy, wanting to explore and enjoy time with his friends. However, he also wants to be like his older male relatives, shooting guns, fishing, and farming. He tows this line throughout the entirety of the film, allowing him to be a simultaneous rose-colored lens and realistic lens through which the audience experiences the film. There’s a joyous serenity in the story of Possum Kingdom, which creates appreciation and empathy for these farmers. They have a quiet passion for their way of life and enjoy spending time with one another. We see them lighting fireworks, fishing, and playing in the river, finding comfort in the seemingly small joys life offers them.
Despite its lack of a linear storyline, Possum Kingdom is captivating. Its beautiful visuals and interesting characters, whether they be actors or non-actors, makes for an interesting watch. The unknown of this film adds to its intrigue – not knowing what was scripted or unscripted, who was an actor or non-actor, created a dreamland. Yearick offers a different perspective of the southern farmer stereotype; she presents a family that is kind, generous, and love their community.
Possum Kingdom will be playing along with the short experimental film Five, Four, Three, Two at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 4, 2023 – Online for 24 Hours. For more info and tickets go here.
Also check out the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival Filmmaker Q+A with Possum Kingdom Director Virginia Yearick, Lead Actor and DP Erik Doty and Festival Director Al Nigrin: