Set in a small, low socioeconomic town in rural North Carolina, indie film George Washington tells the story of a group of young, multi-racial teens who, after suffering a tragedy, are forced to enter into a lie. This lie takes its toll on the group and after their own individual experiences and reactions, they begin to go their separate ways.
George Washington is a deep and intimate look into the lives of the main characters, which consist of George (Donald Holden), Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee), Sonya (Racheal Handy) and Nasia (Candace Evanofski). The young cast does incredibly well here, especially considering that almost none of the actors are professionals. Even Donald Holden, for example, who plays the titular George, wound up in the film after director David Gordon Green came across him on a beach nearby Holden's home.
The chance meeting proved fruitful as Holden is a star highlight in George Washington. He gives a subtle, yet heartfelt performance. His character suffers from a non-visible deformity, so his physical performance is also captivating.
Co-stars, Damian Jewan Lee, Candace Evanofski and Racheal Hardy are not far behind in their performances, all giving their own bit of something to the film. It’s clear that Lee’s Vernon is deep in thought, consumed with worry, and that Evanoski’s Nasia is growing up, becoming a woman, and that Handy’s Sonya is a confused young girl, scared of herself. Given the age of the cast and the film's low budget, it’s easy to fob off the performances as untrained or unprofessional, but what these young actors actually provide are raw depictions that suit their characters, their characters' lives and their surroundings.
Both written and directed by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express), audiences may feel sightly taken aback by how simple the dialogue is, particularly at the beginning. But when you consider the location — the depressing feeling surrounding low socioeconomic environments — it makes sense. The characters spend almost day in, day out together, are at a point where they talk mostly nonsense, telling wild stories and recounting even wilder memories to each other. It's all they have left.
The film is narrated by a young female. I’m not usually a big fan of narration, as too many films that use a narrator tell audiences something they'll learn during the film anyway, making the narration a bit pointless. But this is not so in George Washington. I found the young female storyteller perfect. One line in particular stuck out to me — “we all want families that love us, coz friends go separate ways”. It is a beautiful line, defining the film's overarching message. It's beautifully delivered and shows the audience that it’s not about big budgets or A-list actors, it’s about great, meaningful dialogue.
It’s not about big budgets or A-list actors, it’s about great, meaningful dialogue
In terms of budget, George Washington had an incredibly low one, only $42,000 in fact. At times the cinema-quality seems to match, but has no real effect on the film's status overall. Surprisingly, it actually empowers the movie. Filmed in North Carolina, the sad, depressing settings, such as abandoned industrial sites and rusted over railway stations don't actually require big bucks to tell a story which is set in the opposite end of the financial spectrum. As this is Green’s first feature film, one would assume he deliberately penned something that only needed the bare minimum (in terms of budget) to get made.
The cinematography by Tim Orr is brilliant. Still and slow tracking shots are used frequently to great effect. Back when this film was released in 2000, renowned film critic Roger Ebert labelled Orr’s efforts as the best cinematography for the year; a huge compliment considering it was Orr’s first time working on a feature film.
To compare George Washington to something closer to home, I would not look past 2018 indie film Acute Misfortune, directed and co-written by Thomas M. Wright.
Acute Misfortune chronicles the life of Australian artist Adam Cullen. It was also made on a minuscule budget, but with a great script, great cinematography and the right locations. It’s now being heralded as one of the best Australian biopics since Chopper and one of the best Australian films of the year.
It has a very similar backstory to that of George Washington; a very low budget film, that made everything it had at its disposal work perfectly. The end result is a beautiful coming-of-age tale that is, for lack of a better word, pure and not to be missed.
Travis is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country. He is a Film Critic and Freelance Writer. Follow Travis @TravAkbar
Watch 'George Washington' on SBS On Demand.