SHOULD I SEE IT?
Shot on a micro-budget in and around the State of Washington, Aberdeen is the debut of 20-year-old film student Colton Van Til, and he shows, frequently, that he has great instincts and terrific talents as a director and storyteller.
If you only allow yourself to watch movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, then A) see more movies; and B) Aberdeen is probably not going to be your cup of tea.
Supporting new voices in film sounds and feels easier than it truly is. As filmmaking technology adapts and evolves, filmmakers have evolved the often arduous task of making a movie and shot and edited projects on the very same smartphones we carry around in our pockets every day. Opportunities to create, craft, and share ideas has never been as robust or as accessible as it is today.
And while hundreds of films each year now turn to a straight-to-streaming or VOD platform and hope to take up residency on Netflix, Prime, Hulu, or any number of fledgling smaller-scale streaming services, the experience of sharing a movie, with a community, in a theatrical setting still cannot be matched.
Which brings us to Aberdeen, the feature-film debut of writer/director Colton Van Til. Just 20 years old, Van Til is in Seattle this week, presenting his film he shot in and around Washington state, near a community he grew up in, and sharing it with audiences on the big screen at the local Northwest Film Forum. I mean, streaming is cool and all, but touring with your debut film and playing it in traditional theaters, taking Q&A’s in your home market? That’s kind of awesome.
Working with a micro-budget and local actors, many of them appearing for the first-time in a full-length feature, Aberdeen is an interesting story to come from the mind of a 20-year-old college student, albeit one attending Loyola Marymount’s prestigious School of Film and Television.
Van Til tells the story of Mia (Isabel Bennett), in her mid-20’s, who lands a job as a reporter for a fledgling small-town newspaper in the town of Aberdeen, Washington.
(For reference, Aberdeen is approximately 110 miles southwest of Seattle and famously the hometown of founding Nirvana band members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic).
Tasked with the local high school sports beat, Mia sets aside hesitancy and begins covering the local high school football team as their season is set to begin. Despite her best intentions, she starts off on the wrong foot with the team’s gruff head coach (Tommy Driver), and raises concerns over whether player safety is of priority to the coaching staff, school, and administration.
Additionally, her younger brother Connor (Cooper Tomlinson) lets slip that some players may be receiving preferential treatment, including questionable events with star running back Myles Mac (Bryley Michael Bell). Van Til, along with co-writers Taylor Weaver (landing a cameo as a writer in the film) and Edward Santiago, hints at an interesting correlation between how smaller communities can embrace something, only to turn a blind eye to things happening essentially right in front of them, and looking away.
Van Til has obvious ambition, watching Aberdeen unfold. While pondering that premise, the film looks terrific, quite superior to other small, labor-of-love productions which come around throughout a given year. A local Aberdeen newspaper, “The Daily World” interviewed Van Til in 2018, and references a fundraising video the director made where he indicates that he wanted an “…honest portrayal of the Pacific Northwest,” adding that the grittiness and dreariness of some towns within Washington state was a source of inspiration for the look and feel of the film.
Aberdeen is clearly a labor-of-love from all involved. Using local actors, there is an authenticity which shines through. Some performances vary in terms of their effectiveness, but Van Til has good command of his material, moving characters through scenes efficiently. Structurally, some scenes linger a little too long, while elements of dialogue can feel a little wooden or on-the-nose. Common with films like this, Aberdeen could likewise be a bit more tightly paced and edited to enhance some key emotional moments.
On the plus side, a nicely written score from composer Jamal Green amplifies the material and Van Til uses it effectively. Even when Aberdeen’s second half feels weaker than its first, the young director remains steadfast in following instincts, working through his beats, and seeing his ideas through to completion.
All in all, the film introduces us to a storyteller unafraid to think outside of the box. And you can sense his enthusiasm behind the camera, percolating with every scene. Films like Aberdeen can be building blocks, and with Van Til, one hopes his hard work, as well as the work of those involved, can become a springboard to bigger and brighter things to come.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Isabel Bennett, Amara Davis, Cooper Tomlinson, Matt George Moore, Bryley Michael Bell, Tommy Driver, Jennifer True, Jeremy Moller, Taylor Weaver.
Director: Colton Van Til
Written by: Colton Van Til, Taylor Weaver, Edward Santiago
Release Date: August 3, 2019