All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
November 8th, 2023
MOVIE: ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT
STARRING: KYLEE NICOLE JOHNSON, SHEILA ATIM, CHARLEEN MCCLURE, MOSES INGRAM, ZAINAB JAH
DIRECTED BY: RAVEN JACKSON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
One of the constant images that runs through Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is the clasping of hands. People holding one another’s hands. Or the hand of a baby on the breast of its mother. A hand grasping the mud in a creek of rural Mississippi. It is those images that tell you the story. This is about family history, the connections that are made, the love that exists between those hands, and the work that hands do for us in life. You must get your hands dirty to survive and the story that Jackson is telling us is how those hands work from generation to generation. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a cinematic poem about family, love, and where a person comes from.
Written and directed by Jackson, this is a gentle telling of the life of Mack (Kaylee Nicole Johnson), capturing some small and many pivotal moments in her life. Sharing a kiss with a boy named Wood (Reginald Helms Jr.). Climbing a tree to see other kids playing in the fields. A funeral where she witnesses all those around her in a state of grief. A moment where her father teaches her the sacred process of cleaning a fish or just sitting on the front porch to talk with a friend. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a steady trip through the memories we will all have at one point in our lives.
On the narrative side, there will be many who dismiss Jackson’s approach, which leans heavily on the visuals. In 2023 the low-hanging fruit is to claim this as a Terrence Malick copy. It’s such a lame assertion, to begin with, where any film that even remotely relies on a narrative structure that involves the viewer to have film literacy, becomes the instant Malick’s name is dug up. This is a different director and Jackson is relying on her own experiences, telling a story about being Black in America, and how the Black experience is handed from generation to generation. We see that passage in the eyes of her grandmother, in the guidance from Mack’s sister Josie (Jayah Henry), or in the soft moments when her mother Evelyn (Sheila Atim) rocks her child to sleep.
It also cannot be dismissed that the visuals are spectacular. The shooting by cinematographer Jomo Fray is equally connected with Jackson’s direction. The camera is set on the shins and intertwined hands of three women sitting on a couch. A panning of a room shows the faces of the congregation, some older, some younger, some wiser. It all reveals itself through natural lighting and storytelling that captures it in the moment. That is ultimately the purpose of All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, to see Mack’s life through her eyes, in both her childhood, coming of age, and adulthood.
Many will dismiss it for a languid pace, cinema that forces the audience to just exist, to be in the moment. The choice for a minimal score was where I wanted more but I was in awe of everything that Raven Jackson captured. A beautiful telling of a life story. A languid and luscious way of portraying the Black experience. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a spectacular directorial debut. You just need to put your head and heart into it. Let the mud, the rain, the salt, all of it wash over you.
ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY NOVEMBER 10TH, 2023.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady