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'George Washington'

Bigger picture Director builds a rich mosaic in 'George Washington'

Friday, March 23, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The only connection between the film "George Washington," now at the Harris Theater, and America's first president is strictly and unobtrusively metaphoric.

'George Washington'

RATING: Not rated; contains some vulgar language.

STARRING: Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damien Jewan Lee.

DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green.




This intriguing low-budget movie with unusually rich cinematography (by Tim Orr) explores such themes as possibility, ruin, rebirth, commu-nity, facing a crucial moment and the consequences thereof.

Writer-director David Gordon Green uses nonprofessional actors, and his film centers on those at or approaching the cusp of adolescence.

At this age and in this setting, a dilapidated North Carolina town in the doldrums of summer, time doesn't seem to matter much, and the movie moves at a languid pace. Yet as Green offers each new piece of his tableau, we begin to see the bigger picture in his mosaic.

The movie follows the everyday lives of a group of mostly African-American youngsters. Nasia (Candace Evanofski), who is barely a teen-ager, breaks up with the skinny, bespectacled Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) because he is "too childish."

She now prefers George (Donald Holden), whom she has nicknamed after President Washington because she senses he may be capable of great things. He and his sister live with his Aunt Ruth (Janet Taylor) and Uncle Damascus (Eddie Rouse), whose anger smolders just below the surface.

The other children include Vernon (Damien Jewan Lee), a big kid who likes to playfully throw his weight around, and Sonya (Rachael Hardy), a small white girl.

They talk, they play, they kick through the rubble and ruin of old industrial sites and railroad yards. Green sets off the scenes as individual vignettes shot documentary-style except for the vibrant 35mm photography.

Green makes us feel it is all leading to something by stretching out a buzzing musical chord underneath many of the scenes, by marking time with short punctuating scenes: a boy walking along the edge of a beam or a man riding a motorcycle.

Finally, a tragic accident occurs. Now it is about how the characters react, how they behave, what they decide to tell and what they choose to conceal. As the context grows larger, so does the view of the town and the interaction of the characters with others.

One performs a heroic act and begins manifesting several identities. One worries about being blamed for what happened, bonds with one of the others and thinks about fleeing.

As the movie reveals more about the characters, we understand more about their environment and their place in it. We ponder what could become of them, the potentialities soon to be unleashed and whether they will be realized.

It matters that these are characters we don't often see portrayed in the popular culture. It also matters that the performers do not act for a living -- we may wonder what life holds in store for them as well.

For that matter, Green is a first-time filmmaker himself. Where will he go from here? He has given himself a good start.

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