A Song for Imogene is a powerful film that testifies to the emotional and mental strength of women. The film’s writer and director, Erika Arlee, presents a story that honors the perseverance of woman by exploring their complicated quest for independence. The film makes it clear that, on any given day, the world demands that women be caretakers, earners, and sexually available. A Song for Imogene shows that it’s one of the hardest jobs on the planet because even if you’re doing it right the world psychotically makes you feel like you’re doing it wrong. By delving into the burden of expectations that mothers, daughters, and sisters bear, the film beautifully provides insight into how women struggle to be everything to everyone all the time.
An important aspect of the film that helps it succeed is that it’s put together by an independent production company called Honey Head Films. The company boldy describes itself as “an award winning, full service, female-led production house with a mission-driven approach to narrative filmmaking.” It’s a mission statement brimming with confidence and determination. Qualities that Cheyenne (Kristi Ray), this film’s protagonist, consistently brings to life throughout the project's runtime. The movie’s opening scenes, save the prologue, introduce Cheyenne in a state of composed frustration that is obviously induced by the tedious demands of her domestic role. Ray does not utter many lines, but sends a clear message: Cheyenne is so sick of this shit! And it’s a message best delivered through a feminine prism.
It’s best served this way because Cheyenne feels like a well-executed archetype teeming with real-world experience. You relate to Cheyenne as a woman (and empathize with her as a man) because of how true to life she rings. And the film’s cinematography is instrumental in making this happen. The majority of the film’s shot are tight, almost keyhole tight. Arlee puts you face to face with every character at some point and that gives you the opportunity to parse their souls. She sets you in a seat for every discussion so that you can participate in the conversations. As a viewer, you feel immersed in this story and this world. Arlee's strategy of immersion is one of the best parts of A Song for Imogene.
And while the project’s focus is primarily on Cheyenne’s tribulations, Arlee uses the film’s totality to provide insight into the miserable lifestyle of the poor and obscure. The film is set in the oppressive heat of the American South and there is not an air conditioner in sight! The homes are tiny, dilapidated, and on the verge of being overrun by weeds. Everyone’s car is at least 11 years old, and lucrative jobs come at an ultra-premium. Cheyenne’s sister, Janelle (McKenzie Barwick), seems to have grown roots that’s she unwilling, and most likely unable, to sever. And Alex (Haydn Winston), Cheyenne’s boyfriend, is day laborer with a very bleak future. It’s a very sobering peek into an American lifestyle that many of us forget exists.
Arlee convinces you to hope for Cheyenne’s escape from the bubble of misery that contains her from the beginning of A Song for Imogene, but the film eventually goes several steps further by making clever indictments against the things that trap Cheyenne in the first place. It’s very reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Cheyenne and Lily Bart exist on very different ends of the social spectrum, but they endure similar plights. Both works force you to ask questions like, “Why do these women feel so constrained by their societies?” “What is it about our society that allows men to be manipulative menaces or knights in shining armor at their leisure?” The film doesn’t provide definitive answers, but it sparks a meaningful discourse.
Ultimately, despite the high gravity concepts that A Song for Imogene tackles, Arlee imbues the film with a sense of resolve and love that keeps the story optimistic. Watching Cheyenne and Janelle work through finding ways to support each other really helps accomplish that. Their mutual journey is profoundly uplifting and symbolic. Their odyssey symbolizes the possibility of two factions with different goals and experiences coming together to buttress one another. And at a time when minorities and marginalized people are revolting against several different status quos, movies like A Song for Imogene are necessary. They’re necessary to keep the momentum of those revolutions moving forward so that we can normalize the changes we want to see come to fruition for the betterment of us all.
For more information about A Song for Imogene visit Honey Head Films.