SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Rachael DeCruz and Jeremy S. Levine’s short film, The Panola Project, documents the efforts of 60-year-old Dorothy Oliver to get her town of Panola, Alabama, vaccinated for COVID-19. Panola is a small town of 350 people, and the nearest hospital is forty miles away. Oliver learned from personal experience that a forty-minute drive for healthcare is almost a death sentence in a community with a significant senior population.
Feeling that rural black communities have been forgotten during the vaccine rollout, The Panola Project serves as a blueprint for small communities to attack the problem head-on. Our story opens in Dorothy Oliver’s makeshift vaccine coordination center located in the convenience store she runs from a mobile home. Next, she goes down the town’s registry calling each citizen about their vaccine status.
“…efforts of 60-year-old Dorothy Oliver to get her town of Panola, Alabama, vaccinated for COVID-19.”
If Oliver can get 40 people signed up, then the local hospital will come and administer the vaccine. She then hops in the car (this time with County Commissioner Jackson) and goes door-to-door, hoping to sign-up more people for the vaccine drive. To date, the town of Panola is 99% vaccinated, thanks to Dorothy Oliver’s hard work.
Let’s face it. The message of The Panola Project is that the vaccine works and saves lives, though the vaccine debate still rages on. The film is about the work of Dorothy Oliver to shine a light on the problems rural communities have in receiving healthcare, let alone a vaccine. But, despite the obstacles, she was able to get her community vaccinated by the simple act: a conversation. While canvassing the neighborhood, she comes across a young man named LaDenzel, and his barbeque. Living in a small town, everyone knows each other, and they’re all in this fight together. So, with a friendly tone, LaDenzel signs up.
The Panola Project is all about Dorothy Oliver. Documentarians DeCruz and Levine effectively show off her effervescent and lovable personality. As they say, “a spoonful of sugar…” and she is as sweet as they come. Anyways, do your research, have conversations, and make the decision that’s right for you.
The Panola Project screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…DeCruz and Levine effectively show off her effervescent and lovable personality."