A work of extraordinary depth and compassion, Lance Hammer's feature debut Ballast explores the lives of three characters whose relationship with each other has been ruptured by a suicide. Lawrence (Michael J. Smith Sr.) is a gentle man deeply affected by his brother's death, while his estranged sister-in-law Marlee (Tarra Riggs) refuses to speak to him, and her 12-year-old son James (Jim Myron Ross) flirts with a life of crime and drugs. These lonely, poverty-stricken characters need each other, and they slowly come to this realisation during the course of the film, tentatively edging towards reconciliation in a process that Hammer watches with insight and patience. He draws flawless performances from his three inexperienced leads, all of whom seem to be living, rather than playing, these roles, but the most impressive facet of Hammer's direction is his confident storytelling. He boldly sidesteps any moments of contrivance or obvious epiphanies, instead allowing something like real life to unfold in front of his lens. This is a director who understands that a whisper can be as powerful as a shout, and in its own quiet way, Ballast is a stunning achievement.