Release Date: January 24th, 2020 (Slamdance Film Festival)
Directed by: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb
Window Pictures, 85 Minutes
“If Belk goes, we are in deep woo-woo.” – customer
I didn’t go into this film expecting it to hit me in the feels but man, it really did. I think that has to do with the fact that I spent a lot of time in my youth going to malls, hanging out in malls and eventually working in one doing a bunch of different jobs from stock boy, sales, store management and eventually a third-shift security supervisor.
With that, I probably have a different level of nostalgia for indoor malls, as well as a deeper understanding of what they were and how they’ve declined in recent years.
This documentary captures a year in the life of the Jasper Mall in Jasper, Alabama, which isn’t too far from Birmingham. It focuses on multiple people but the main person is a former zoo owner who now works for the mall in a variety of roles from trying to lease space, being the head of security, maintenance and janitorial work. He’s sort of the “Jack of all trades” in the mall and it’s almost like he lives there.
His love and dedication to his job, the mall itself and the community around the mall is pretty damn inspiring but it’s also really sad, considering that the mall is having a really hard time keeping tenants and attracting patrons in a world with online shopping and other new options that have popped up in recent years.
We also get to spend time with a shop owner, who is retiring but has been a mainstay in the mall for a couple decades.
Beyond that, we get to meet a job applicant, a few other workers and shop owners, as well as some of the regular patrons, who don’t want to see their once prosperous community center die.
This isn’t just about Jasper Mall, though, it’s about small town America and the decline of malls in general. This one just feels like the perfect subject to convey this story and to bring light to what has happened to shopping malls across the country.
Jasper Mall is incredibly genuine and real. It makes you yearn for simpler times when everyone loved going to the mall on the weekends not just to shop but to interact with others in the community. They used to be places where things happened and in most cases now, they’ve become ghost towns and mausoleums to our cultural history.