The race to the Oscars is on. Big budget biopics and art pictures directed by respected names will dominate the ballot, with independent breakouts far and few in-between. The visibility of these indie rarities typically grows via word of mouth after limited release (unless the Weinstein Company grabs it), something much easier today thanks to the tweets and “Likes” of social media. Aside from generating positive feedback after screening at top film festivals, it is especially difficult for short films to generate enough buzz in time to make the Oscar’s ten-picture list of finalists for the “Best Live Action Short” category, which will be unveiled later this month. The Sea Is All I Know, directed by talented newcomer Jordan Bayne, is among this year’s group of seventy qualifying short films. Bayne wrote, directed, and produced this rare gem of a film, and even though it only screened at a handful of mid-level festivals, the film does have one big advantage that sets it apart: it stars Oscar winner Melissa Leo.
Blue hues engulf The Sea Is All I Know, which features accurate portraits of maritime life juxtaposed with the heart-wrenching story of a Christian couple, Sara (Melissa Leo) and Sonny (Peter Gerety), bound together by their unfathomable grief for their terminally ill daughter. Angelina (Kelly Hutchinson) writhes in pain as her parents helplessly look on, making many of the scenes so emotionally wrenching that they are difficult to watch. Bayne interrupts intersperses these scenes with breathtaking imagery of bay trap fishing, all the while haunting her audience with a folk song she co-wrote, “Brown Eyed Child” (sung by Sonny at his daughter’s bedside).
As in Frozen River and The Fighter, Leo brings a tough-as-nails edge to her character. Making no concessions to vanity, Leo bares her soul as Sara, most notably in the compelling kitchen scene where she begs God for salvation, pledging to sacrifice herself, instead, if only her daughter is spared. Due to their infidelity-soaked marriage, Sara and Sonny struggle to make a rational, cohesive decision as their daughter asks them to end her life, proving the greatest act of love is to love and let go.
“The most important thing about filmmaking is that you really know what your story is and you’ve stripped it to only the things necessary to tell that story,” Leo says regarding the film. “It’s pretty simple.”
Bayne’s 30-minute tale is the epitome of why short fiction filmmaking survives. It captures your attention from the start, hardly allows you to breathe along the way, and leaves you feeling as though your heart has been ripped from your chest as the credits roll and the haunting “Brown Eyed Child” is played one last time.
Thanks to Melissa Leo’s commanding performance, not to mention the Academy-respected cachet of her name, The Sea Is All I Know will hopefully receive the attention it deserves come awards season. For some artists and producers, Oscar recognition serves merely as a symbol of bragging rights, especially for those with a few under their belts. But for Jordan Bayne, a nomination for The Sea Is All I Know would not only give credit where credit is due—it would also provide quicker entrée into the world of feature-length films. Judging from her work on The Sea Is All I Know, that would a boon for film lovers everywhere.