This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001




Shannon Harper plays a gentle giant in the existential gem WELCOME TO PINE HILL

WELCOME TO PINE HILL (Keith Miller, 2012)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday March 1

In 2010, filmmaker and Gallatin School professor Keith Miller made a short film, Prince/William, based on a real-life situation involving himself, Shannon Harper, and a dog each man claimed to own. Using most of that eight-minute short as a starting point, Miller has expanded Prince/William into a feature film, the poignant Welcome to Pine Hill, a low-budget, existential examination of Abu (Harper, at times channeling Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog), a gentle giant who lets life happen to him instead of taking action. Abu lives in his own private bubble, his eyes peering in other directions and out windows, wondering what else is out there as he listens to drivers’ endless explanations of car accidents at his insurance job, sits down to eat dinner by himself, agrees to hold on to a package for a friend, gets a terrible diagnosis from a doctor, and visits his estranged mother. While it is apparent that Abu was once a dangerous thug, he has now settled into a far more humdrum, honest existence, but it is still difficult for him to shed his reputation. Even after finding out he has a terminal disease, he doesn’t share this information with anyone but just silently goes about getting some of his affairs in order. When Harper takes his huge hand and strokes it over his face, as he often does, it’s like he’s hoping things will change when he’s done, but nothing ever does. Miller keeps Welcome to Pine Hill at a slow and steady pace throughout, evoking Abu’s now-boring life. Filmed in a cinéma vérité style by Lily Henderson and Begonia Colomar (Eric Phillips-Horst shot the opening sequence), it also features many of the secondary characters playing versions of themselves, adding to the realistic feel. Harper is magnetic in his film debut, making audiences want to reach into the screen and shake Abu, but even that probably wouldn’t faze him as he head toward the elegant, poetic finale. Winner of awards at the Slamdance Film Festival as well as at indie fests in Seattle, Nashville, Atlanta, and Sarasota, Welcome to Pine Hill opens this weekend at the IFC Center, with Miller on hand to talk about this small gem at the 7:45 screenings on March 1-2 and the 4:05 show on March 3.

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