From here on out, when I hear the term “local film”, I will think of King Hollis’s Pearl, a sweeping biopic that follows the aviation career of Pearl Scott Carter, the youngest licensed pilot in U.S. History. The film was financed in large part by the Chickasaw Nation and featured a crew that was around 60% Oklahoman, which is fitting for a local hero. Last night, when the film showed here in Oklahoma City at the deadCENTER Film Festival, the house was packed with at least fifty people stranded outside, unable to secure tickets for the show. Those who did make it inside were roused to standing ovation as the credits began to roll. So what is this movie that has such an allure here?
The story is very basic. Pearl is a daredevil who drives her blind father around at the age of 11. When an unexpected visitor, pilot Wiley Post, lands his new plane in Pearl’s backyard, she is given the chance of a lifetime to go up in the air with him. Enchanted by this little girl’s tenacity, Wiley suggests she learn to fly. In due time, Pearl’s father buys her a plane and builds her a landing strip. The young prodigy begins flying in airshows and carting businessmen across the state. However, the excitement of flying comes at a price, and she is forced to choose between her love for aviation and need to have a family, a life.
The truth is that there are many weak parts in the story. In general, the film runs too long, bustling about from plot point to plot point without always drawing a direct relationship between everything that is happening. Shot on video, the movie is quite gorgeous. As a period piece, it can be difficult to get an audience behind the harshness of the video image, but in time this falls away, mostly due to the wonderful performances in the film. Elijah DeJesus is great as Pearl. It is difficult to buy her aging over the years, which is accomplished by giving her longer hair, but her stage presence more than makes up for it. Also of note is Andrew Sensenig who plays Pearl’s father, George Sr. Playing a blind man can be difficult, there is often an emotional disconnect when someone is focused on not looking at anyone, but Mr. Sensenig steps up to the plate and delivers. He almost reminds me of Tom Hanks, but only almost. There are a number of great performances to see, but we must move the review along.
Mr. Hollis and his dedicated team recreated rural Oklahoma in the 1920s and 1930s to bring this tale to life. The costumes are spot on, the old town streets are delightful to look at, and the period specific aircraft are breathtaking. The film was shot on a modest, unreleased budget in 23 days. During a Q & A session, Mr. Hollis mentioned that all of the airborne material was shot in a matter of 6 hours. This is impressive given the scope of the film. It is colorful, endearing, and exciting. Most importantly in this film is the sense of wonderment it creates, something that is often lost among indie filmmakers. During many of the flying scene, I was sitting there wide- eyed, gawking at the screen like a little kid.
As I mentioned before, this is decidedly a local film. Producer David Rennke, who is Chickasaw and plans to make many films about the Chickasaw Nation, mentioned that they think the film has the potential to be a worldwide success. While that may be possible, the best aspect of this film is its ability to be a success here. Like I said before, the audience here loved it and they need more films like this, they are aching for them. How delightful it is to see your hometown portrayed so lovingly on screen; how fitting that a local hero get the “hollywood” treatment, but without all the noise and fuss of actual Hollywood coming to you. This is a key local film for Oklahomans, and they should be proud. Pearl is worth checking out, that is if you find yourself in an auditorium full of eager Okies.