The odds are fairly strong that you're familiar with Tony Todd's iconic history in Candyman. However, if this is your only reference for Todd that's a sad thing indeed as the indie actor has chalked up a long history of wildly diverse performances in everything from low-budget horror to animated vocal work to this film, the dramatic short Dixieland.
In Dixieland, Todd portrays Charles Colster, a Union physician in the U.S. Civil War whose regiment is completely wiped out. Left to survive on his own, he escapes into a Virginian mountain where he encounters William Adams (Philip Orazio), a Confederate soldier already hiding in the cave. The two warily share both space and the warmth of a fire, a tension-filled peace seemingly enveloped by the war that we know both men have experienced.
They should hate one another. Do they?
We've seen films like William Hellmuth's Dixieland before. Written by J. Scott Worthington, Dixieland is essentially built upon that age-old structure of two people from disparate backgrounds searching for common ground both because they want to and because it may very well be needed for survival. Left on their own, will Colster and Adams choose to find that common ground or will the war that surrounds them also define them?
Todd, who has always been an under-appreciated actor, is marvelous as Colster. If you've ever seen Todd, you already know that his mere presence can be intimidating. Yet, Todd also knows how to use his physicality to create transparency and vulnerability. Dixieland affords Todd a chance to put on a full display of his acting prowess and he makes the most of it as a physician whose driving force, even amidst war, is to save lives regardless the side. Todd wears the heaviness of a man whose very soul feels weary as he's forced to experience the kinds of actions we just know violate every value he cherishes. Yet, he continues forward. It's in many ways a quieter performance for Todd, yet it's towering in its dramatic impact.
While Todd carries the recognizable name here, rest assured that Philip Orazio matches his dramatic rhythms note-for-note quite sublimely. As Adams, Orazio is injured not just physically but psychologically by the choices he's made and the actions he's taken. One can't help but get the sense that he's injured himself just about as much as he's been injured by the "enemy." It's a powerful performance and his scenes with Todd are profound in bringing Worthington's meaningful dialogue to life.
Morgan Mallory's original music works beautiifully across the film's 16-minute running time. Hellmuth's own lensing for the film captures both the beauty of the setting and the sense of tragedy that radiates throughout. It's practically required that the camera capture both the intimacy of this story and the universality of its messages - Hellmuth absolutely delivers.
Dixieland had its world premiere at LA Shorts in late July and also screened at HollyShorts. This beautifully constructed film with excellent storytelling should no doubt continue to experience success throughout its indie fest run. If you get a chance, I definitely recommend you check it out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic