Director Raven Jackson’s debut All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a visually stunning, poetic story that follows the life of Mack (played by multiple actors throughout the film) — a Black woman from Mississippi, depicting how she transitions from childhood to adulthood. In following Mack, the film also illustrates how family, community, and seasons, both metaphorically and literally, change.
“I’m really interested in the cycles,” Jackson told ESSENCE at the premiere of her film during Sundance Film Festival. “I’m really interested in the shifts, the beginnings, and the endings, how we change as people. I’m not the same person I was just a year ago and I won’t be [the same] a year from now.”
Jackson, who also wrote the screenplay, was greatly influenced by her grandmother in the making of this film, from the dress sense of the women to the décor of the house in which Mack grows up. Even the title of the film, she says, stemmed from a conversation she had with her grandmother many years ago.
“The title for me, first of all, it elicits a feeling for me. And it also speaks to this thread that’s passed down through the generations of women in this family which is clay dirt eating,” she says.
The film is slow-paced with intentional dialogue, sometimes to the point that the latter might feel a bit stingy. But to the conscientious viewer, this choice doesn’t only confess Jackson’s directional approach but also professes a beauty of small-town Southern living — life is slower, words are more deliberate, gestures are never without intention. On the latter point, Jackson notably focuses a lot of the camera on her character’s hands throughout the film.
“I think the hands for me are like eyes for some people,” she says. “I know I recognize the power of eyes but the power of hands are right up there with me…the lines [of hands], the movements, what they are embracing or not, says so much to me…how tightly are they holding something, how long.”
The statement is indicative of how Jackson treats almost every detail in the film — as if it matters, because it does. Every word uttered, the gold tooth or scar that appears on a character, the way Mack and her mother, sister, and father are shown dancing, mourning, loving, and losing — it’s all intentional. And indeed, All Dirt Roads is a story in which loss is prominent theme, but the loss isn’t the point in itself. The loss, like all the water shown in the film in rain, streams, or bathing babies in sinks, is supposed to represent how the states of life transform much as Mack does throughout the story; water transforms, and people transform. For Jackson, this is why all dirt roads — perhaps a metaphor for life as a journey — does indeed taste of salt.
“Life is beautiful but it’s painful too, says Jackson. And I think bittersweet– bittersweet in the complexity of life.”