Heartland Film Festival 2015: Movie Review – The Big Lonely (2014)

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  • Documentary Feature / USA
  • Director: David Manougian
  • Featured Subject: Michael Nelms

This review is part of my coverage of 2015’s Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Click here for more of my coverage of the festival. You can find my coverage of other Indianapolis area film and TV events here.

The Big Lonely opens with a statement saying it is a documentary shot entirely by its main character with no production crew present. As the film’s subject Michael Nelms sets a fire, the viewer is instantly immersed into this story of a man isolated and alone in the wilderness for almost a decade.

The film chronicles eleven months of Michael’s lonesome life in a beautiful wilderness landscape as he struggles through a harsh winter to find food for himself and his dog, Tick. Using cameras provided to him by the film’s director David Manougian, Michael speaks candidly about his life and the circumstances that led him to his lifestyle.

Michael speaks with a poetic eloquence about his life and his circumstances throughout the movie. His candor offers an intense window into his deepest feelings. There’s a lot of sorrow and pain in his voice as he speaks about his past, his present, and his inability to find a future for himself. The film offers an unbridled view into the harsh reality of this man’s life and the bitterness that could have destroyed him.

Perhaps by happenstance, The Big Lonely offers a lot of insight into the greater issue of homelessness in this country. The documentary is a chronicle of Michael’s seventh year in the wilderness, but Michael doesn’t shy away from what led him to this alternate lifestyle. Through Michael’s conversations with the camera, the viewer is engaged in a dialogue with one of the countless people in the U.S. who’ve been forced by circumstance into poverty. At one point, Michael caps off a beautiful description of the wilderness (referring to it as his mistress) with the painfully poetic line, “Poverty with a view.”

The Big Lonely is a very poignant and honest look at a man’s isolation and self-reliance in wilderness. Through footage shot over the course of a year, you’ll see the emotional and physical toll of seven years of isolation on a man and his dog as they survive what many would find unsurvivable. Michael’s story will also make you think about the homeless issue in a new light.

Obsessive Grade – 8.0/10

The Big Lonely Heartland 2015 Screenings:

Tuesday, Oct. 20th – 5:45pmCastleton
Wednesday, Oct. 21st – 4:15pmCastleton

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