Papa Was a Rolling Stone [Keith Williams, USA, 2020]

Sharing the title with the popular song by The Temptations, Keith Williams’ Papa Was a Rolling Stone focuses on the emotional turmoil that such a lifestyle can leave behind on family. The film takes a very stripped-down and direct approach with its premise, allowing the actors to shine with stellar performances. While the film doesn’t quite utilise the technical aspects of filmmaking as gracefully, it ultimately delivers with its story and characters.

Tonyella (played by Chevelle Hallback) divulges the painful feelings she harbours towards her deceased father to a stranger named Paula (played by Stephanie D. Sanders), whom she meets at his grave. Hallback portrays Toneylla with a restrained grief; one that is reminiscent of a person whose heartache has become well lived in. Sanders is compassionate and brings a lot of warmth in her role. While her lack of lines and the film’s emphasis on Tonyella may give the impression her character is underwritten, the empathetic ear of Sanders’ performance not only compliments her co-star, but also adds subtle glimpses to her character’s history even though we don’t get to see it.


The use of natural lighting here is a great example it how can be used to help convey mood and tone. With minimal cuts, the lingering camera captures the sun as it shines whenever Tonyella experiences an emotional breakthrough with her history. On the flipside, the score of the film leaves a little bit more to be desired. While the gentle piano notes suggest a feeling of hope, it is a little too monotonous throughout.


Overall, this is a film that is driven by the wonderful performances of its leads. The bold choice to rely on natural lighting is incorporated into the story almost effortlessly even if the score is not quite on the same level. Despite this slight drawback, Keith Williams’ Papa Was a Rolling Stone is benevolent in its approach to the topic of grief, making it all the more moving.

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