The Height Of The Sky

The Height Of The Sky (1999)
Vanguard Films
Cast: Grant Moninger, Evan Palazzo, Jackie Stewart, Jennifer Weedon

Here’s another intriguing film from up and comers Vanguard Cinema. ’The Height of the Sky’ won the ’Best Feature Film’ award at the Telluride Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. The film is set in rural Arkansas in the summer of 1935. The poor Jones family farms a small plot of land, which they rent from the rich Caldwell family. When Gabriel Jone (Grant Moninger) succumbs to tuberculosis, family patriarch Wendel Jones (Jackie Stewart), decides to hide Gabriel in an old cabin until his condition improves, instead of sending him to a state institution. This leaves the strong-willed Leora (Jennifer Weedon) in charge of the family. Jennifer must convince Mr. Caldwell (Evan Palazzo) that all is well on their farm while she covers for her father’s absence. During this time, Leora is forced to take a good look at herself, her family, and her family’s reliance on the Caldwell’s. As the film progresses, Leora beging to learn that things aren’t always the way that they seem.

’The Height of the Sky’ was co-written, produced, and directed by Lyn Clinton, who just happens to be a cousin of President Bill Clinton. (The box art proclaims ’A Clinton Family Story Untold Until Now’) While Lyn Clinton claims that the story is fiction, one can’t help but wonder if there are any kernels of truth in it. The movie is beautifully filmed and Clinton does a great job of capturing the impoverished look of the Jones family. (Are they farming dirt? Where are the crops?) Clinton also gets a great deal of support from her cast, who are all superb, especially Weedon. The film tells its interesting story without becoming melodramatic or letting the characters become simply stereotypes. At nearly two hours, the film does drag in spots, but overall, it’s a satisfying experience.

The DVD of ’The Height of the Sky’ presents the film in a widescreen format, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1. The film on the DVD has not been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The digital transfer has brought us a very nice looking image of the film. The picture is very crisp and clear, and relatively free from grain or film defects. The sunsplashed daytime shots come across as very clear, giving us a great feeling for the dry and dusty conditions on the farm. The single layer disc shows no signs of complications caused by compression or artifacting. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby 2-channel Surround. The dialogue is always audible and well-balanced without sounding muffled. There is no audible hiss on the soundtrack. However, there is little action from the surround sound speakers. There are no extras on the DVD, which is disappointing. This DVD could have benefited from an audio commentary or a documentary which shed some light on any factual basis to the story.