First time director J.T. Petty has done something remarkable — he shot a 16mm film for a reported $9,000 and had it accepted into the Sundance Frontier section, a niche for works considered experimental in some way or other. But the only “experimental” thing about Soft for Digging is the welcome use of a lingering camera that soaks up atmosphere mixed with a story that has very little dialogue. Otherwise this a nice, low-tech, conventional ghost story about an old man haunted by a vision of a murdered child.
The first half has some wonderful images as the old man, wearing nothing but white long johns and an open red bathrobe, wanders into the woods looking for his lost cat, squeezing a squeaky toy along the way. Unfortunately, the concluding ten minutes feels forced and amateurish. For the most part, however, this low-budget film was both memorable and enjoyable. It was also the first film I’ve seen at Sundance that was not just shot on 16mm, but also projected on a 16mm projector (in the past, the festival required 16mm films to be blown up to 35mm), and it proved that an old 16mm projector, limited to mono sound and with hairs that get caught in the gate, still provides an image that is ten times warmer and richer than any of the digital video images being projected on the $350,000 high def projectors in use throughout Park City. (See interview.)