15 Jun 2022
Nicholas G Sims, Jay Dukes, Alonzo Hester
In America fewer than 2% of the people who visit national parks are black or African American. In his new short film Hazard, writer/director Daniel Bergeson suggests a few reasons why this may still be the case and offers a hopeful vision of the future where the natural splendour of the countryside is able to be enjoyed by all.
Naturally, the history of Hollywood hasn't helped in showcasing the pleasures, pastimes and outdoor pursuits of the average black family. From It Happened One Night (1934) through Easy Rider (1969), to National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) and Planes, Trains and Automobiles(1987), then Road Trip (2000), Little Miss Sunshine(2006), Sex Drive (2008) and now Nomadland (2020), it's been goofball loners, stoners and moaners; families, friends and would be lovers who are the sole concern of road trip movies and all almost exclusively white.
Bergeson has now tried to redress the balance a little, imagining a simple scenario of what it might be like for a black family – father, son and uncle – to take a road trip out into the countryside and try to commune with nature for a couple of days. Marcel (Sims) has bundled his tech-wired son Xavier (Hester) into the back of the car and has also roped in his brother Kevin (Dukes) to come along for the ride. The conversation seems pretty natural and true to life as they head out on the open highway, and even though not everyone is jazzed about a couple of days away from the bright lights of the big city, they all seem to want to make the best of the situation they now find themselves in. America though has different ideas.
When the car suddenly cuts out, what has up to now been fun family times, immediately becomes three black males sitting in a vehicle by the side of the road. Bergeson is careful not to drift into sensationalism as the scenario plays out, managing to walk a tight line between ramping up the tension and keeping the simple humanity of the situation alive. His focus is always on the family and it is a strength to see each character work out how to be around the others so that a common love can be expressed. This theme continues throughout the rest of the film and into the campsite, where new challenges and characters are introduced.
Split into a series of small discrete scenes, Hazard takes its time to round out its characters and build on its premise. The use of comedy to balance out the more serious themes works well and everything is underpinned throughout by a strong sense of togetherness. Everybody does a good job to ensure the quality of the production and it's easy to see that the message at the heart of the film is a large motivator for that.
From top to bottom the characters are perfectly cast, with Jay Dukes as Kevin being a standout performer in amongst a strong group of actors. The cinematography from Bobby Peacock is eye-catching and colourful while Daniel Bergeson's direction offers us a slew of well chosen shots, ranging from a nice wide-angle, down to a frog's eye view and then somehow onto a tree trunk split screen.
Hazard wins on all counts as a feel good film, and even manages to give some of the old, classic, family road trip movies – the white ones – a run for their money. It has all the right elements in all the right measure and has a subject at its heart that speaks more to a modern audience.
Hazard dreams of a more inclusive America; somewhere where the margins of statistics about population and culture don't sit at 2%; and it is a very enjoyable experience to witness the imagery of that dream, if even for the little time that we get it.