Sometimes you need a film that can wash over you and speak to the elements in your soul by reflecting the world around you. That is what “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” did for me. It was a pleasure speaking with the director of the film, Raven Jackson, while she was at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, before she went on to attend the New Orleans Film Festival this week with the film. I definitely felt this film had some similarities with Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” in how it brought you intimately within a place and the people who inhabit it. Raven’s film comforted by soul and I can’t wait to watch it again. It’s definitely going to be a film that I will continue to return to.
“All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” has begun its theatrical run through a limited release. The film screened this week at the New Orleans Film Festival as part of their centerpiece program.
In the press notes, you said “I’m very drawn to the profound in the mundane, seemingly transitional moments that you often return to.” You can see this reflected in your film.
I, as a person, really as a human, as an artist, I’m just really interested in the “small” moments that help shape a life. And I find I have my own moments that I think about, that seem smaller, but for some reason, have stayed with me. I like to say those moments are ones with teeth, and I think they aren’t always just the big ones. I mean, of course, larger moments do impact our lives as well. But I’m very interested in the quieter, mundane moments, like learning how to skin a fish, and touching my grandma’s hands. I wanted in this film to hold those moments with equal weight to the larger ones.
Reading the press notes brought a lot of things to mind, specifically how you talked to your maternal grandmother about the tradition of eating dirt. I love how that’s kind of connected with the title, and weaved throughout the film.
It’s interesting because the title of the film comes from a poem I wrote years ago before I knew I wanted to create this film. It was after a conversation with my grandmother about eating clay dirt. Originally that had nothing to do with the film at all, but that poem and story stayed with me. When I knew I wanted to do a feature, it felt like the film wanted to be named that. Even with the title, I didn’t always have the clay dirt detail in the film. It was later in the script writing process before I recognized that this detail really wants to be here. It wants to be present in the film. For me, it ties it all together when speaking to how these characters are close to the earth, the water cycle, and how that speaks to how it’s usually after it rains that the earth smells so rich, and within a week later, they are inclined to go out and get some.
For me, it speaks a lot to how the film mirrors nature and our lives as humans and how clay dirt eating does that for me. Also, with the title, “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” the salt means the loss and the grief, so it’s a bittersweet title in a way.
Can you talk about Barry Jenkins and how he was instrumental to this project?
It’s funny that you ask that because I’m actually in Memphis for the Indie Memphis Film Festival, which is where Barry, was the judge for the Indie Black Filmmaker Residency in screenwriting when the project was in its earlier stages. I submitted to it last minute, and he selected the project as the winner of the residency. It was months later when the script was ready to be sent out and introduced to potential producing partners that his company Pastel that he runs with Adele Romanski and Mark Ceryak officially came on board.
It has been a dream collaboration to work with them as well as Maria Altamirano, who was the day one producer on the film. I think Barry really pushed me to own my voice and give space for that. They are not afraid of the risks I want to take with my films or the risks I take as a filmmaker. They are excited about it. I’m really grateful because I feel working with them provided a lot of shelter to the film.
I love the sensory aspects to this film, and I love that it’s not linear. Can you talk about how you used the senses, especially the sound, to tell the story?
Sound felt from the day one of making the film very important to the project. I used to record sound, and I love sound, so I wanted to be very intentional with it. With a film that is very quiet, I wanted sound to be another layer of telling the story, and also hopefully be another doorway into the interiority of the characters. Thinking through, for example, the rain in the film, was important. I wanted to figure out the emotionality of a certain scene, and how it spoke to the touch of the rain, which would contrast with the rain in another scene. I wanted to be very intentional with the sounds in each scene, which also hopefully speaks to the specificity of place. Because I’m not interested in giving concrete details in terms of years or location. Even in the log line, it says it’s Mississippi, but I don’t say in the film that this is Mississippi.
I like that you know your audience. You know that the audience is smart, and therefore, you didn’t need to spell it out.
And sound helps in that by giving enough specificity. It was important for us to be intentional in build that world, which allows the audience to be with them, while bringing themselves into it too.
Why is rain and water such a powerful aspect in this film?
I’m very interested in how things change form, and how we change as people in the seasons of our lives, moving from life to death, the life cycle, and how that is mirrored in nature. Water felt like the perfect image and vehicle to really speak to that. So much of our bodies are made up of water, you know what I mean? The rain for this character is prominent, but it also speaks to clay dirt. It just felt like water was a beautiful image to speak to so much because really, the cyclical nature of the water for me mirrors our experience as humans, nature, and the seasons. And also, water was perfect for a film that I wanted to be like a fluid viewing experience. It’s also that. Water speaks to that too, which allows the film to wash over you, which I hope is the experience. So I knew early on that water would play a big role in this film. Like with the fishing, it’s just everywhere.
What do you hope people see in your film?
I hope this film gives space for people to again bring their full selves to it and I hope people allow it to be an experience by having it wash over them, and to think of the seasons in their own lives and the changes in their own lives and relationships. I hope that ultimately, at its heart, it’s a film about life. I hope that it resonates with the people who see it and who need it. They will hopefully see aspects of themselves, whether it’s in the characters or nature, and they will be able to connect in some way with the film.