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Inspiring documentary Along the Rail premieres at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival!

By Morgan Kalmbach

originally published: 05/25/2024

Inspiring documentary Along the Rail premieres at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival!

Art can portray many things and occupy many mediums. Some artists utilize subjects such as cities, animals, and people. For Craig Wallace Dale, this choice of subject has ranged over the years and currently rests with railroad track graffiti. Jonathan Harkel’s Along the Rail displays and honors this longer-than-three-decade journey.

Along the Rail introduces its viewers to the focus of the film from its compositionally intriguing first shot of the rail alone. The film itself focuses on Craig Wallace Dale, a photographer who began with more classic modes of photography and after a series of unfortunate events decided to start photography again with a new subject: train railroad graffiti. To add to his new project, Dale also created his cyanotype printing device, which is no easy feat.

At the film's beginning, we are introduced to Dale’s more standard portraiture work and learn that he sold all his belongings and bought a one-way ticket to New York City. This inclusion not only introduces the viewer to Dale’s work but also offers the viewer their first glimpse into Dale’s dedication and love for his work. Harkel utilizes more standardly shot footage of Dale’s work while Dale himself discusses how his work at the time was more classic and typical. Additionally, we learn that Dale expanded his work to boating and other fields, showcasing his openness to different subjects and projects. After suffering from major health issues, Dale was forced to abandon his portrait company yet was undeterred and began to attend a teaching program.

In the busyness of his new life, he found a way to continue his love for photography by taking photographs on his phone of the grafitti on the side of the train tracks he rode on for work and school. According to Dale, his inability to control the outcome of the photo due to the high-speed train and phone camera delay felt similar to the little control he had over his life at the time. Despite this, Dale still held out and believed in his work. As a viewer, these thoughts and words from Dale strongly showcased more of his personality and his ability to be positive at a time when it may have been difficult to maintain faith.

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As if Dale’s intelligence and talent were not displayed enough with his work in the film, we also learn that to accompany his new graffiti project, Dale also built his cyanotype printer. Dale explains that he wanted to utilize a more olden method to pay tribute to his subject. To the audiences, this is yet more evidence of his love for photography and his creative mind.

Dale himself is an upbeat and passionate subject.  The film showcases his personality greatly as someone happy with his passion and also a humorous and kind person. His love of photography even with the simplest of subjects is entertaining to listen to. Additionally, his explanations are easily digestible. As someone with little knowledge of the printing process, it was not difficult to follow along and share in Dale’s excitement and love for his craft. However, thanks to Harkel’s concise editing and interesting B-roll footage, Dale's story is also portrayed well.

The clips utilized of not only Dale but also his work and the tracks he rides on are intriguing. The film is shot in a way that feels like a personal conversation with Dale. Through the usage of closer scaled shots and many eye-level shots, we as the audience get a closer glimpse into Dale’s work in an inviting and comforting way. Harkel’s editing decisions also are particular and calculated well, with for example the fact that the train footage usage was slim until Dale himself began discussing his graffiti project, which marked our entrance into the new era of Dale’s photography. Harkel’s simplistic editing style and calmer music allow the audience to focus on our subject and appreciate his story rather than getting distracted.

Jonathan Harkel’s Along the Rail tells the inspiring and comforting story of photographer Craig Wallace Dale’s journey throughout his career and how his hardships have shaped his work. The film itself is a beautiful tribute to Dale’s perseverance and open-mindedness even during his hardest moments. Most importantly, the film uplifts the idea that art has no one subject and that there is always a subject, like graffiti, waiting to be captured by the right artist.

Along the Rail screens at the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 2 as part of Shorts Program #1. The film will be available for screening online for 24 hours on this day and will then be shown in-person at 5:00 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Along the Rail Director Jonathan Harkel and Craig Wallace Dale will be on hand to do a Q+A after the In-Person screening! Tickets are available for purchase here.  

The Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program in Cinema Studies, presents the 2024 New Jersey International Film Festival which marks its 29th Anniversary. The NJIFF competition will be taking place on the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between May 31 - June 9, 2024 and will be a hybrid one with online as well as in-person screenings at Rutgers University. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. VOD start times are at 12 Midnight Eastern USA. Each General Admission Ticket or Festival Pass purchased is good for both the virtual and the in-person screenings. The in-person screenings will be held in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ beginning at 5PM or 7PM on their show date.  Note: The Screenings on June 1 will be in Milledoler Hall #100/ Rutgers University, 520 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Plus, The NJIFF is very proud to announce that acclaimed singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler will be in concert on Saturday, June 15 in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ at 7PM.  General Admission Ticket=$15 Per Program; Festival All Access Pass=$120; In-Person Only Student Ticket=$10 Per Program.; General Admission Marissa Nadler Concert Ticket=$25.

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