How do you look at someone that’s committed a reprehensible act? Can they be forgiven, are they the devil and what do you do if they’ve achieved great success prior to this event? These are the sorts of questions that are raised in the documentary short, unmappable, which is about Denis Wood.
The film is produced, directed and edited by Wake Forest University graduates, Diane Hodson and Jasmine Luoma. The pair have previously collaborated together on the short films Kids of Conquest and This Land Is Our Land. In unmappable they turn their sights to a controversial subject. Denis Wood is an artist, cartographer, author, former professor of Design at North Carolina State University and a convicted sex offender.
unmappable is like the first episode of an imaginary show called “At Home & Work with Denis”. We see him delivering lectures at university and recounting his interview with Ira Glass on This American Life as well as describing his anarchist father, his felonious brothers and his penchant for music (including Miles Davis and Paul Anka). Wood’s description and footage of an ant that is initially bound by a drawn circle and its ultimate crossing of a line is an interesting segue way into describing the indecent “act”.
In 1996 Wood pleaded guilty to crimes with a minor and served 26 months in prison. He is unapologetic about this and says the two were in love. His attitude in some ways mirrors his approach to maps in that he challenges people to question their ways of thinking about cartography. Maps are often used by people to describe their world but Wood likes to consider the things most individuals think are unmappable, like the distribution of Halloween lanterns in a neighbourhood or the names of pets, among other things.
Denis Wood is a man of many contradictions and while unmappable may occasionally suffer from bouts of hagiography, it is a good film that is filled with promise. This short is well-edited and makes excellent use of graphics by Bryan Campbell (who used Wood’s book, Everything Sings as inspiration) as well as sound collages of the subject’s friends, family and colleagues who were interviewed. This documentary shows a strange but engaging man and is revealing in its portrayal of him. The film is tense, will make you feel uncomfortable and want to ask lots of questions.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 22 minutes
unmappable plays as part of the 2015 SXSW documentary shorts competition. For more information and tickets please visit: the official SXSW Film schedule