Review: Moonshine (2000)

>> Saturday, August 16, 2008

USA/C-22m./Dir: Kelly L. Riley/Cast: Jim Tom Hendrick (Himself), Pat Williams (Herself), Gilford Williams (Himself)

The subjects of documentaries often prove that real people are more fascinating than any characters that can be fashioned out of the imagination. Jim Tom Hendrick, the focus of Kelly L. Riley’s documentary short Moonshine, is just one of those subjects. An aging denizen of the hills of North Carolina, Jim Tom spends his days focused on the semi-conflicting interests of the Bible and the production of corn liquor. With Jim Tom as our tour guide, the film leads us through the process of distilling moonshine whiskey; but the short also takes the time to stray from the bootlegger’s hidden mountain still to give us a view of Jim Tom’s community and way of life.

Despite his secretive pursuits, Jim Tom proves himself to be a completely open and unguarded subject for a documentary filmmaker. The moonshiner is unembarrassed to let Mr. Riley follow him around, as he digs through garbage bins, displays the scars from his multiple car accidents, and blows into a breathalyzer in order to start his car. Jim Tom is obviously content with his simple way life. As his sister states, “He says as long as he has a loaf of bread, and a pound of bologna, and a pound of cheese, he fine.” However, I imagine Jim Tom would add a jug of white lightning to that list.

Although the short was shot on a shoestring, Kelly L. Riley managed to squeeze the maximum results from his low budget. The film was well shot--Riley has a cinematographer’s eye--and well edited; and the movie documents the world of Jim Tom in a straightforward manner that is neither judgmental nor condescending. It’s easy to see why this short collected awards on the festival circuit.

If I had to offer any criticism of the film, I would suggest that at 22 minutes, Moonshine is too short. Just as we begin to get to know Jim Tom and his community, the movie is over. Riley’s subjects are just as interesting as the characters covered in Chris Smith’s American Movie (1999) and Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida (1982); and they could have easily carried a feature-length film. On the other hand, since Moonshine was a student film, funded in part by a grant from Entertainment Weekly, it may be that what we see of Moonshine is all that resources would allow. Whether the film is small due to budget restraints or by design, Moonshine is a tasty aperitif that leaves the viewer wanting more.

Drinks Consumed--Moonshine (corn whiskey)

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--JIM TOM: I got to wait until this warms up. That’s my alcohol breathalyzer. People that’s drunk moonshine in their life has to blow on these things.

Video Availability--Moonshine DVD (CreateSpace). A small taste is below.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Based on this clip on YouTube, it appears that Kelly Riley may currently be at work on a feature-length documentary on Jim Tom, Still Making Moonshine. Let’s hope that is indeed the case.

Still Making Moonshine (DVD)


Anonymous August 20, 2008 at 8:35 AM  

Ah, once again: "harmonizing"

my favorite symptom of sousedness!

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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