SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Sometimes, as a precursor to falling asleep, I like to watch YouTube videos about abandoned places: hotels, hospitals, apartment complexes, and the like. The documentary Jasper Mall is analogous to watching a feature-length version of one of those YouTube videos. While the northwestern Alabama mall is not abandoned quite yet, as store closing after store closing persists, the inevitable YouTube video is not too far off.
Anyone who grew up in the days before the Internet changed everything, will, perhaps fondly, recall how the prominence of the local mall featured in his or her everyday lives. These fortresses of capitalism were crucial in the social lives of countless teens and, many times provided focal points in a community.
“…the northwestern Alabama mall is not abandoned quite yet, as store closing after store closing persists…”
In tracking the gradual demise of the Jasper Mall, directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb don’t so much present a tribute or a history of the titular mecca of commercialism, but use its story as a signifier of similar, larger issues of economic struggle and dramatically shifting trade practices. There are many a recollection in Jasper Mall of how busy the mall was back when it was constructed in 1982, how packed it was with people.
Looking at the mall now (which, from a design standpoint, is trapped in the glory of its 1982 heyday), it is a skeleton of its former self. At one point, former zookeeper (!) turned security guard (a documentary about the circumstances that contributed to that career trajectory is one I would love to see) and general go-to guy, Mike, the film’s most prominent subject, declares while surveying a vacant space, “Some people believe in ghosts”—as appropriate a summation of the Jasper Mall as any.
Thomason and Whitcomb utilize a more “day in the life” approach to their film, admirably rejecting a more typical documentary style concerning lots of talking heads and perhaps some reenactments. This proves to be both a positive and a negative.