Slamdance Film Review: Jasper Mall
The Slamdance Film Festival runs Jan. 24–30 in Park City at the Treasure Mountain Inn. Here, find featurettes about Slamdance 2020 films. Go to slamdance.com for more info and SLUGMag.com/slamdance-2020 for more fest coverage!
Directors: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb
When shopping malls were popping up in the 1980 and 1990s, they were the place to be. Pop culture and media portrayed malls as the suburban destination for shoppers of all ages. Think Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) or Mean Girls (2004). Even throughout the 2000s, going to the mall was portrayed as a teenage getaway. When you had nowhere else to go, the mall was a safe bet for anyone, from the local goth to the high-school jock to the stay-at-home mom. Nowadays, with the introduction of the internet and the rise of a newfound societal awareness of the unethical nature of fast fashion, the appeal of shopping at a mall seems like a thing of the past. The documentary Jasper Mall illustrates the mediocre hum of this Alabama shopping-center’s current market. What once housed a myriad of different storefronts and enthusiastic consumers is now stale, outdated and a lackluster novelty that seems to be fading fast.
I am fascinated by this trend of dwindling/abandoned malls. Not only is it a side-effect of our societal advances, but these malls are time-capsules of the last 30–40 years. Such as with Jasper Mall, store-fronts that haven’t been touched since the mall’s opening and the dated interiors of wood paneling, brown-mosaic-tiled floors and unkempt details offer a grim dose of nostalgia, kind of like the feeling that comes when one encounters an empty Blockbuster. The Jasper Mall opened in August of 1981, and it’s apparent that there hasn’t been any tender love and care given to it since it’s big debut. While different stores have come and gone, the mall struggles to thrive. One of the employees of the mall—who works at a jewelry store that just so happens to be moving locations—reminisces about when the mall first opened. “It was always packed on the weekends,” he says.
The film opens up by following the morning duties of the Jasper Mall head of security. We revisit him and his duties throughout the film. His story recounts individual testimonials and of mall employees, all of which reminisce about the mall and share their memories of how the mall formerly existed. Robin, from Robin’s Nest, a store in the mall, shares old photos of the events that used to take place at the mall, even expressing her surprise when she saw a Chick-fil-A in the food court, just another expression of the waning of this particular shopping center.
The cinematography of this film is beautiful. During the interviews, the conversations feel personal, as if we’re sitting in the room with them. The directors highlight unique people and their individual stories in an extremely humane way. The B-roll of mall-goers is effective in setting the tone of the mall’s clientele. I love the contrast between the life struggling to thrive within the Jasper Mall and the stark reality of its emptiness. Above all, my favorite thing about this film is the artistic frame they place around a dying mall. The way they capture the neon, the brick, the disheveled parking lot is all striking and visually appealing. The filmmakers highlighted all of Jasper’s charms. There’s so much artistry in every shot, and they’re all gorgeous in their own way.
While the Jasper Mall is just another dying mall in America, it does tug at my heartstrings a little bit. There are so many pieces of this mall that I can remember seeing in my local mall throughout my childhood, and the nostalgia that I feel for those times throughout watching this film is thick. While it may appear that this mall lost its touch a long time ago, Jasper Mall is a reminder of the days of yore. While it is in fact dying, it shape shifted itself to find a way to fit into the current day’s society. The Jasper Mall is still kicking to this day (I googled it), but this documentary is absolutely worth watching, if not for the mall itself, then for the heaping dose of sentimentality. –Zaina Abujebarah
Jan. 24 // 3:15 p.m. // Gallery
Jan. 27 // 5:30 p.m. // Ballroom
Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.