Song Of Salt Image

Song Of Salt

By Bobby LePire | June 3, 2022

Directors Emma Baiada and Nicolas Snyder present Song Of Salt in true cinéma vérité fashion. Excluding the opening text, which offers crucial context, there’s nary an interview or scene that feels preconceived. This presents a unique challenge to the filmmakers, as they need to capture audiences’ interest while not betraying the style or point they are hoping to make.

Situated very near Death Valley is the mining town of Trona. Once a vibrant area with plenty of jobs, automation took over, and layoffs began to take their toll in the early 1980s. Now, Trona has a population of slightly over 1,000. Unfortunately, the town does not seem to offer much hope for a future to these residents, some of whom have called this place home their entire lives.

Eventually, a few major characters emerge: high school senior Tiara, the May family, and Mary Crandall. Each of them represents a different generation and have varying ties to Trona. In one early heartbreaking moment, Tiara defends her town as having “…like way culture.” Why this is sad? Because of the turn her life takes as Song Of Salt comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Deep in Death Valley lies the mining town of Trona.”

But the real tragedy comes from the Mays. The parents are constantly searching for gainful employment while their kids, including the adorable “Sissy,” do the best they can to amuse themselves. But, unfortunately, Mother Nature has plans that completely upends their life.

Baiada and Snyder have assembled what must’ve been hundreds or thousands of hours’ worth of footage into something meaningful and captivating. Trona as a place has very little to offer, but the community still there is incredible. The filmmakers cycle through everyone’s day with ease, so what’s happening to who always makes sense.

Song Of Salt also gains strength from its spectacular cinematography and music. Co-director Snyder also was the composer, and he finds the right balance between inspiring and dramatic to match the raw intensity of the stories at play. Both Baiada and Snyder, along with Oasik Horta, serve as directors of photography and ensure the beauty and desolation of the town are captured in equal measure. Scenes of striking power, such as the opener involving gathering salt, are followed by moments highlighting boarded-up stores or burnt-down homes. The visual power on display is overwhelming.

Song Of Salt is the perfect observational documentary. Trona might be heading to oblivion, but that doesn’t mean its citizens are. Thanks to the efforts of Baiada, Snyder, and their crew, cinema lovers can experience the highs and lows of these wonderful people in a touching, profound way.

Song of Salt screened at the 2022 SF DocFest.

Song Of Salt (2022)

Directed and Written: Emma Baiada, Nicolas Snyder

Starring: Tiara, Mary Crandall, The Mays, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Song Of Salt Image

"…gains strength from its spectacular cinematography and music."

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