Moviemaker Cameron Bruce Nelson fell for film while traveling Africa with a camera that was a gift from his dad. Since then he’s been around the globe — Appalachia, Australia, New York City — immersing himself in various cultures, learning, teaching and making movies that utilize location as character, as critics have pointed out.
But it all began at Lake Highlands High School, where Nelson was delinquent to the extent that he spent his senior year in boarding school. The rebellious streak was short-lived. His restless spirit just needed a place to shine.
By the time he arrived at The University of Texas at Austin, where he double-majored in cultural anthropology and history, he was focused and driven beyond his years. It was during college that he settled in and allowed himself to learn.
“I realized that the world was so big and that there is so much out there,” he says.
Visual arts and music had long captured his imagination, and while photographing South Africa’s capes and coastlines, he realized movies could be a convergence of both loves.
He could “see a film, the score and the images, as a symphony.”
Yet young Cameron did not cut a direct path to movie making. He and a friend first went to work on a farm in southwest Virginia.
“We wanted to make and save a lot of money and have an experience,” he says. “We formed an art collective and tried some different things — live music, making music videos, touring with a band.”
That farm would provide the setting for his first full length film, Some Beasts, released in 2018.
Indie music and film critic Grant Phipps described the picture as a “tender meditation on provincial Appalachian life,” comparing it to the early works of Terrence Malick (Tree of Life). Other industry pundits mention him in the same breath as Dallas-native directors David Lowery (A Ghost Story and The Green Knight) and Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) while pointing out what sets Nelson’s writing and direction apart from those contemporaries. He “avoids elements of criminality and revenge to focus most honestly on a couple weathering physical separation,” Phipps writes.
Some Beasts delivers viewers, a little off kilter, into a lawless world of lonely bearded men in Carhartt overalls. The raw, authentic-feeling script and acting, a symmetry of sounds (music and sawmills) and silence, and sparklers, in small doses, converge and draw us in.
“In film, you have the opportunity to explore between subjectivity and perception. It’s one of the gifts of the art form,” Nelson says.