By Joan Ellis |
Forty years after growing up with them, filmmaker Jack Ballo found the two brothers who had been his friends through their school years in Sayreville. In an alcohol-soaked life, Mark and Steve drank their way through their inheritance and were in their fourth year of living in the woods.
With “Brothers,” Jack Ballo has filmed their story with his unobtrusive Apple iPhone and the result feels thoroughly authentic. This would have been a different film in the hands of a conventional camera crew. Both Ballo and his iPhone seem invisible with the result that we in the audience are right there in the woods.
There’s no doubt that alcohol ruined any chance of an ordinary life for the brothers but watch for their hardiness as they live through 16 seasons of weather that control their lifestyle. What’s even better is that Ballo has captured the details of how the brothers’ ingenuity has allowed them to create their home. A mess from afar, ingenious close up.
Shots of their whole encampment at first make it look like barely controlled chaos and mess. Plastic sheeting here, torn tents, junk everywhere, but each thing has a purpose. Every time Ballo’s camera zooms in on a specific, we see that each gizmo has been adapted for a particular use. A reason for everything, and all of it works.
A junky looking board of found parts and wires supplies battery power for various uses. Small tents and blankets keep them comfortable when the temperature hits 4 degrees. A plastic bag of drinking water with a nozzle hangs from a tree. Rust-colored rainwater is collected from puddles and stored for watering their tomato garden in the summer. Did you know that if you put two tomato plants in one hole, they compete with each other and grow even bigger than a single plant? Had you thought that the simplest way to wash and dry clothes is to hang them on branches when it starts to rain? What happens when their inventive minds meet an impossible problem? Their answer: “You go to Walmart.”
The windup of the film is appropriate and welcome. The emotions linger. The impact of two men living comfortably in the woods for four years through their own imaginations and skills is impressive. The whole thing caught by a friend with an iPhone is a banner headline for the immediate future of filmmaking. That phone and the new popularity of short films puts movies in the hands of young people who will adapt quickly to inexpensive filmmaking and work from imagination. Financial and physical limits on creativity are over.
Jack Ballo will be teaching a course on iPhone filmmaking for teenagers this summer at the Count Basie Theatre and in the fall he will run one for older teens and adults who can’t resist the challenge. See his film “Brothers” at 2 p.m. July 30 at the Indie Street Film Festival at Red Bank’s Bow Tie Cinemas.
This article was first published in the July 27 – Aug. 3, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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