Short Films in Focus: Belongings

Alex Coppola’s documentary “Belongings” is a documentary whose subjects believe in spirits, but it’s a very casual kind of belief. They’re there, maybe not all around us, but lurking in places that have meaning to us. They come out if we let them, acknowledge them, and speak to them. The storyteller in the film, Morgan Talty, has heard noises all his life in the house where he and his sister grew up. Their mother had a special word for these visitors, who sometimes had good intentions, sometimes bad. Talty has stories, most of them true, and has a funny way of joking around at the right moments. It’s good to have a sense of humor when you’re being haunted.

Talty has returned to his childhood home after his mother’s passing. His first tale is a strange one, indeed. One day, he and his mother came home and found something odd on their bed (no spoilers here). How did it get there when all the doors and windows were locked? What is the knocking sound that can often be heard? How are household items suddenly disappearing and reappearing? In the past, Talty’s mother seemed to always have the answer, steeped in their spiritual beliefs as members of the Penobscot Indian Nation. It is possible now that these “hauntings” are helping her communicate with her family from beyond the grave. The weird thing is the new homeowners have also been hearing unexplainable noises.

“Belongings” will reach anyone who has had similar experiences of living in a home with its own set of strange sounds and occurrences. I seem to remember living in my parents’ house in Arlington Heights, IL, and hearing the sound of footsteps in the grass and leaves late at night while trying to sleep. Every night. I went downstairs a few times to check it out but saw and heard nothing. Only when I was upstairs did I hear it. Could it have been a spirit? Or just a sound that happened to sound like footsteps when heard at a certain height? I’ll never know. Talty and his sister seem convinced the noises in their childhood home come from some being that wants attention. Maybe their mother is now that being.

Coppola’s film lets Talty do most of the talking, which makes sense. An accomplished writer, he has a presence and aloofness that centers the film and makes it easy to relate to and enjoy. The film stays rooted in the hallways and bedrooms of the house; it cuts away to photo albums and other meaningful objects while resisting the urge to go into a full animation style that has been the norm for short docs like these lately.

I recently had the experience of going through my own parents’ house this year when it was up for sale and we had to clean it out. I never heard any noises or disturbances while I was there, but my mom cannot seem to explain how a couple of DVDs I loaned her suddenly disappeared. She’s not one to lose things like that. We gutted that house, and they never turned up. Other people live there now. I wonder if they’ll hear the noises I heard. If so, what will they believe they are? I was never quite sure what to believe, but “Belongings” has me thinking about them again, and maybe it’s time to take another look, not at the house, but at what those weird unexplainable noises make me think about and feel.

Read the full article and Q&A here.
Check out the short film on Coppola’s Vimeo.

Visit Morgan Talty’s Speaker Profile: