Sometimes you have to let things burn.
39 characters, 7 words
A tall tale about a southern childhood.
After learning his father lost the family farm, a young boy in the rural South connects with his estranged grandfather and begins to question his own connection to the land which leads to a wrestling match with the devil.
Delta is a short narrative drama that tells the story of Nick Francis, a 10 year old boy in rural Arkansas in 1980. After learning that his father lost the family farm, Nick runs away from home and attempts to connect with his estranged grandfather. After hearing a tall tale about his grandfather wrestling dinosaurs & the devil, Nick begins to question his own connection to the family land which builds to a showdown at the crossroads and a confrontation with the devil. And ultimately Nick wins the ability to see his father as a real person.
Delta is a coming-of-age drama set in 1980 rural Arkansas and builds on a rich tradition of Southern Gothic storytelling while offering a nuanced portrayal of Southern culture often overlooked or stereotyped by mainstream media. Much of this character insight comes from the young protagonist’s notebook drawings which transform into hand-drawn animated sequences illustrating Nick’s conflicts and imaginative resolutions. This film will be shot on 35mm film utilizing natural light and dusty textures to evoke a heightened sense of time and place.
10 year old Nick Francis, growing up in an Arkansas farming community in 1980, has learned to cope with his alcoholic father, Larry, by keeping careful notation of all the wild animals he finds on the family’s farm. But even this small comfort comes under threat as foreclosure on the farm looms. After a drunken rage from Larry, Nick packs his things at dawn to escape his father who he now imagines as a sleeping monster in a recliner. Nick is so terrified that he forfeits his only shoes in the living room, and sneaks out of the house barefoot.
With no real plan, Nick ends up at the farmhouse of his estranged grandfather, Robert Francis just has he is headed out for the day. The guarded Robert, who has long avoided his difficult son and, by proxy, his grandson, sees himself as a poor substitute for a babysitter but allows Nick to come with him. After he buys Nick breakfast at the local gas station, he suggests the boy return to help his father. Nick has no trouble explaining his father does not need his help and Robert resigns to having a tagalong for the day.
Nick draws maps in his notebook doing his best to seem invisible as his grandfather drives, smokes, and even stops by his girlfriend’s house. Robert, for his part, struggles to offer meaningful solace to the boy and goes about the day in silence. But as they stop briefly, Robert is inspired by Nick’s drawings and starts to spin a tall tale about the foothills jutting out of an otherwise flat landscape. Nick vividly imagines his grandfather wrestling dinosaurs and the devil to create the rolling hills in the distance. Nick sees the land with a touch of magic and pride as Robert claims those hills should be named “Francis Ridge” after him.
As the sun sinks, Nick asks about the smoke billowing from the field burn taking place. Robert shares that “Sometimes you have to let things burn.” With this, they return to the Nick’s home. But as the taillights of the pickup truck fade and Nick alone faces his house, he is confronted with the looming figure of the devil. Surrounded by dancing flames and made bigger and darker by all Nick’s fears, the devil wordlessly challenges the barefoot boy. But Nick now knows it’s possible to win a fight when outmatched. With a cry, he rushes straight into the black void and it explodes into swirling ash.
Back at the house, Larry is there waiting for Nick. He is no longer the snoring larger than life beast from before but a dispirited, weary man who offers Nick the abandoned sneakers in a gesture of caring. Nick is no longer afraid and once alone in his room, adds the devil to his map of animal sightings.
I grew up in the Arkansas Delta which is home to many small rural farming communities in the fertile land near the banks of the Mississippi River. The stories in Delta are drawn from my personal experiences as well as family stories that have been told and retold so many times no one knows any longer what is truth and what is fiction. This short film is about the passage of time and how the past affects the future. While showing young Nick’s struggle with the 2 men in his life who he looks to for guidance, I seek to create a context for the audience to discover how generations connected by blood and forged in the dirt of the rural South are complex individuals worthy of contemplation. – Juli Jackson