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The Independent Critic

Laurence Fuller, Lisa Goodman, Ashley Hayes, Clint Napier
Dustin Cook

 "Mother & Brother" Wins Prize at Arizona International Film Festival 
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Dustin Cook's 17-minute short film Mother &  Brother picked up the prize for Best Dramatic Short at the Arizona International Film Festival for its emotionally jarring and honest portrayal of family obligation amidst the scars of family dysfunction and unresolved trauma. In the film, two brothers are left with the task of caring for an aging mother with a legacy of abuse.

It is difficult to describe Mother & Brother without giving it all away, though I'll also confess that how everything unfolded didn't necessarily come as a surprise. This doesn't mean that it wasn't effective - in fact, Mother & Brother is disturbingly effective at portraying the  lingering wounds that carry over from childhood and impact our daily lives until that very moment when we decide to let go in whatever way is possible.

Our brothers, who are simply known as "older" and "younger" in the film, are clearly brothers who have lived their lives in a shadow of guilt and emotional paralysis. Now, on the younger brother's wedding day, he makes a decision to confront the guilt haunting their lives and to carry a new burden alone.

D.P. Todd Bell's lensing is enveloping and occasionally smothering. Does this sound like a bad thing? It's not. In a story where guilt has smothered and smothered and smothered for years, it's more than a little necessary to drive that feeling home through the words that are spoken and the images that are revealed. Bell captures the darkness and the inner turmoil of two brothers who seem like they're on a sinking ship and struggling to rise to the surface for air while their mother sits their, almost achingly nonchalantly, either completely unaware or uncaring or unfeeling or whatever.

The performances are uniformly strong. As the older brother tasked with carrying much of the physical burden, Laurence Fuller gives an introspective, vulnerable performance with an overwhelming feeling that exists somewhere beyond resignation. As his younger brother who recognizes that his brother has largely sheltered him over the years, Clint Napier serves up just a hint of rebellion that begins to slowly unravel his years of guilt. Finally, as the mother whose life is winding down even if her legacy is not, Lisa Goodman is unnervingly matter-of-fact in a performance that absolutely demanded such a performance.

With Mother & Brother still early in its festival run, it'll be fun to watch this short drama with a big impact as it makes its way around the indie fest circuit. If you get a chance, check it out.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic