Diamond John (Short Film)

4 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

John Wesley Huddleston was a quite peculiar man with a passion for prospecting. Ever since he was told (as a child) a legend of riches, he has been searching and digging for gold and precious stones, while also trying to support his family. But he has never found anything in all the years he’s been searching, which tries the patience of his wife and five daughters who wish he would get a job and rescue them from what would seem like inevitable bankruptcy. It seemed as if all hope was lost until he found exactly what he was seeking.

Those who are familiar with the folk tales surrounding “Diamond John” (as Huddleston would be labeled) also know that Huddleston discovered “one of the largest naturally occurring diamond sites in the world” in Murfreesboro, Arkansas 1906. This story is always traced back to when it comes to “diamonds” and “Arkansas,” and I have to wonder what a feature film (90-120 minutes of running time) would deliver on it. It is a fascinating tale and deserves to be told through film.

What there is, however, is a rather delightful, well-made short film (about 14 minutes of running time), aptly titled “Diamond John,” that surprisingly manages to tell a good chunk of the story in a non-rushed manner and with enough feel-good spirit to make it endearing.

This is a great short film. It’s well-executed. It’s engaging. It’s amusing at times. It looks good. You can tell that a lot of hard work and energy went into the making of this project, and also going by the minute-long applause at the UCA Film Festival (where this film premiered, and also following an afterparty/awards ceremony at which it dominated with about seven or eight awards), it all paid off.

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“Diamond John” was presented by the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Digital Filmmaking department, and written and directed by Travis Mosler as a student project. Mosler, a Digital Filmmaking major, has done a lot of research based around the biography of John Huddleston (a lot more than I have in the first paragraph of this review, let’s just say), and has conducted an effective period piece with a talented cast and crew. Taking place in 1906 Arkansas, a majority of funds the crew gained on their Indiegogo campaign went into the look and feel of the appropriate era. It’s astonishing, how authentic it all looks, from costumes to props to locations. In particular, John’s family home looks like the appropriate setting for such; there’s a realistic-looking western village that looks just right for the time-period; and also, there’s even a Model T Ford Coupe that makes an appearance—how they managed to get that is anyone’s guess, but I’ll take it!

Unusually for reviewing a short film, I feel obligated to praise the acting, but the roles here are hardly thankless anyway. Tom Kagy, as Diamond John himself, effectively captures the eccentricities and passion of the character. Ann Muse is credible as John’s wife, Sarah, who constantly tries to get John out of his dream and into the real world. Also, Jason Willey is very funny in a small but important role as a nervous bank clerk.

“Diamond John” runs for about 14 minutes. I’m not going to lie; I wish that with this talent in front of and behind the camera, this endearing story was crafted into (at the very least) a 30-minute film or even a 90-minute feature film. But as it is, it hardly feels rushed. It’s tightly edited, but has enough to keep your attention and more importantly, to make you care. It worked for me; it could work for you.

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