Anna (Lily Rabe) seems to have it all, a rewarding career, a stable family and a home in the East Bay hills overlooking San Francisco’s Golden Gate. When a tragedy occurs, she wonders if what’s left of her perfect life is still worth living. Winding up in the countryside far from home, she’s taken in by Tess (LisaGay Hamilton), an African American rancher who’s also trying to escape her past.
Written and directed by Britta Sjogren, Redemption Trail is a complex film that doesn’t shy away from social issues. Tess grew up in the other Oakland, down in the flatlands where her father was a Black Panther. In flashback, she’s witness to a confrontation with police that turns violent. Art work by Emory Douglas, who was the Black Panther’s Minister of Culture, adds period detail.
Tess’s problems with the law aren’t all in the past. She’s still on parole for an unspecified crime. An added complication is her long distance relationship with John (Jake Weber), the owner of the property, who’s looking to close the gap. As a Scotsman, John has an outsider’s perspective that proves invaluable. And he has some healing of his own to do, as well.
Rabe and Hamilton lead an ensemble cast that includes Hamish Linklater as Anna’s long-suffering husband, David. The filmmaker’s daughter Asta Sjogren-Uyehara is Ruby, the child at the heart of the story. Juliette Stubbs, also a Northern California native, plays John’s daughter. A subplot about the Latino underclass features the lovely Stephanie Diaz as a recent immigrant. If that weren’t enough, San Francisco literary maven Beth Lisick appears briefly.
As in a classic Western, there’s a sense of myth in Redemption Trail that comes with the territory. The acoustic guitar-based soundtrack by Mark Orton is a key component that smooths transitions from city to country and back again. Bradley Sellar’s cinematography illuminates the often overlooked beauty of Oakland, California as well as the more celebrated Marin County. All of this comes together for a rich emotional experience. Judy Bloch writes: “Sjogren is a Bay Area filmmaker to watch–literally. Her visual sense is keen, and the startling landscapes of shifting fog and vistas she captures reward seeing this film on the big screen.”
Redemption Trail is now on the film festival circuit.