Uncertain is a town, its Sheriff explains, where you have to either be lost to find it or running away from something to want to live there. It sits by a lake on the Texas/Louisiana border which means most of its ninety-four citizens are there because they committed a crime (or crimes) in one of those two states and wish to be over the state line so as not to face further prosecution, the thinking being that you can get away with whatever past misdemeanours that may try to catch up with you on the other side of that border. Here we follow three men and the people in their respective orbits, an elderly fisherman, a middle-aged hunter of wild pigs, and a younger man who is struggling to get by when booze offers a more inviting solace from his life...
The documentary movement of the twenty-first century was stronger than ever when Uncertain was released, though that meant more competition to be seen, which also meant every film had to have a hook that drew in the audience, or at least a semblance of one. Uncertain, from seasoned documentarians Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands, did not really go about its true life stories that way, it tended to dawdle through the lives of its trio of subjects rather than opt for a sensationalist delivery or mine a killer premise, it was purely serving up a slice of life from a town that was patently on the way out as everyone who could leave, did, and those who were left simply could not make that break.
We found out more about these three men as the film progressed, but maybe there was not much we could not have guessed from what the opening ten or fifteen minutes told us. The two older fellows had skeletons in their closet that they were happy to discuss, or if not happy exactly, then unembarrassed to admit to when they felt they could serve as a warning to others that the combination of drugs, drink and guns was not going to bring pleasant results, not that they would ever give up their guns in the way they had eventually eschewed the stimulants. Still, you had the impression there was little unique about their experiences across the United States and its poverty-stricken denizens.
The younger man is diabetic, but suffered from alcoholism instead of facing his problems which mounted up when all his funds were going towards the bottle rather than paying his debts or improving his quality of life. He is young enough to have possibilities ahead that may be brighter than the other two, or so you would think as he strikes out away from Uncertain to move to Austin where there are more people of his own age (staying in his hometown is a dead loss when it comes to meeting women), but as he cannot find a job there any easier than he had where he hailed from, he is soon in hospital after about a month of not being able to afford insulin. Seeing him in his hospital bed is especially saddening, for he seems like a good kid yet circumstances serve to beat him back at every turn.
The other two had their sob stories too, but they were more at peace with themselves over the terrible exploits they had to come to terms with from their younger years: killing people, basically. The oldest gentleman is finding his fishing increasing troublesome as the lake providing the town with its livelihood is gradually choked with an invasive species of weed, the offspring of plants that were decorative in fish tanks when they were fashionable, but dumped in the water when they grew too much to handle, a neat metaphor of the crisis the town faces the directors underlined with many shots of the surrounding swamplands, beautiful-looking but decaying thanks to an invader only a special breed of weevil can counteract (this offers the story a note of hope to end on). The middle-aged hunter has his war stories as well, but is seen seeking out a large pig he regards as the leader of the others and necessary to eliminate if the wildlife is to thrive. How scientific that is may be questionable, but whatever gets you through the day is not to be scoffed at, especially in this backwoods region. Music by Daniel Hart.
UNCERTAIN is at the ICA from 10th March and On Demand from 17th March.