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100 Words Film Festival: Holding on to You

by Nicole Fisher

October 5, 2015

Connecticut filmmaker Pete Vandall’s spare, dignified documentary, Holding On to You, brims with unspoken yet crystal clear emotion. Driven by a sound bite of an old woman’s remembrance of a happy home and family, this four-minute gem is heartfelt and heartbreaking.

Opening with the image of a moldy record needle dropping onto a dusty record’s grooves, Vandall segues to faded, over-saturated home movies of family moments--picnics, prom night and playing golf, shot sometime in the 1970s judging by the styles. In the present, the camera winds up an autumnal tree-arched New England road as the everywoman narrator recounts how she and her husband found the perfect lot to build their new home. Next, Vandall cuts to a montage of the abandoned house today: The battered mailbox with a peeling street number, rotting gutters, crumbling masonry and a neglected swimming pool. A close-up on a rusty axe catapults us back to the past, as children from 40 years ago carry freshly cut firewood through the snow.

Vandall’s focus on telling details propels his narrative into the universal. Watching it, I couldn’t help but recall old movies of my parents examining the foundation of my childhood home. The images are comforting yet shocking, because Mom and Dad seem gawky, almost impossibly young.

Then Vandall does something amazing. Seamlessly overlaying old footage over contemporary shots of the decaying home, he merges images from decades past to the exact location today. Vandall’s contemporary camera matches the distance and perspective of the archival footage precisely. It’s a technical achievement so adept it’s practically invisible, as people, faces and friends slot into the chilly house today.

The heart of the vanished home haunts the present, superimposing girls going to prom over crumbling concrete steps and slipping a family Christmas into an empty living room. Bustling with warmth and life, these pictorial memories flicker briefly, and then dissipate like smoke. With Holding On To You, Vandall has crafted a chronicle of ordinary people that is both modest and epic, a reverie evoking mortality, loss and the bittersweet journey that awaits us all.     

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Tags: Pete Vandall, Holding On to You, 100 Words Film Festival, Connecticut, New Englannd, home

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