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Southern Scenes writes a love letter to the American South

For those who live here, and even for those who don’t, it isn’t hard to tell that the American South is a land of looming contradictions. I often wonder how such a violent history could possibly birth a culture so rich with beauty. This weekend, filmgoers were given an answer as they were granted full access into the mysterious world of Southern life by way of the Indie Grits Film Festival.

Southern Scenes, a collection of eight short films, approaches the American South and its inhabitants through diverse perspectives. Whether it is two drifters in search of a family, a father dealing with loss or three children mastering the art of levitation, each story evokes a sense of intrigue. With locations ranging from Alabama to Texas to right here at home in Columbia, viewers were spoiled with a variety of tales that shared a similar theme of escapism.

For anyone who has ever had to endure a Southern summer, the opening scene of Shannon Silva’s short film “Baby Oil” would have felt all too familiar. During the summer of 1978 in rural North Carolina, a young mother and her two children are lounging in the backyard with absolutely nothing to do. That is, until a sudden thunderstorm forces them into their trailer and knocks out their power. While their particular situation seems fairly common, the circumstances have bigger implications. Although the young family manages to escape from the storm, it’s revealed that their mother is unable to escape an offscreen abusive husband. For Silva, “Baby Oil” is a flashback that takes inspiration from a rocky time during her childhood and takes on a meaning much larger than herself.

At first glance, “Grand Dragon” seems like a harmless peek into the imaginative world of two elementary schoolers, but the story takes a rather unexpected turn. After playing “superheroes” in the yard leaves Maria’s X-Men toy stuck on the roof, she has to conquer her fears to get it back. When she makes it upstairs into a forbidden bedroom, she finds an elderly man on life support and a scary costume hanging in the corner. However, it isn’t your average costume. Unbeknownst to young Maria, it’s a Ku Klux Klan robe. Trapped in the bedroom, Maria plots her escape and prepares to face a monster unlike any she’s ever faced before. Director and Rock Hill native Chris Gervais flips the meaning of donning a costume on its head as he takes a symbol of hate and strips it of its power through taking control of the narrative.

A standout of the night had to be “Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers.” Bo McGuire’s semi-autobiographical tale that explores the lives of family after the death of a beloved grandmother garnered a lot of laughs. Set in Hokes Bluff, Alabama, the story spends much of its time focused on the character of Aunt Sharon, who causes a stir after dismissing McGuire’s drag queen uncle from the family home. The film jumps quickly from scene to scene as the editing takes inspiration from McGuire’s late grandmother’s eccentric style of storytelling. While the quirky characters and hysterical situations seem too larger-than-life, much of it is unapologetically authentic as much of McGuire’s family portray themselves, except for the outlandish Aunt Sharon and a few others. “Socks of Fire” paints a dazzling portrait of family dynamics and Southern eccentricities. 

Being a Southerner is a feeling of epic proportions, and the short films of Southern Scenes truly capture the essence of what it means to be one.

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