The Delta

Director: Ira Sachs
Screenwriters: Ira Sachs

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


The delicate tone of Ira Sachs’s beautiful meditation on the brief, but indelible, relationship between two young men belies the power of its purpose and the violent inevitability of its conclusion. Devoid of any obvious retreat to sentimentality and stereotype, The Delta is a first feature of extraordinary lyricism, sensitivity, and compassion. Awash with the textures, sounds, and sensory specificity of Memphis and the Mississippi, The Delta transports us deep into a rich and regional naturalism strangely evocative of British social realism. The film’s character and articulation of place, however, are distinctly American.

Through its carefully constructed narrative, the film follows the burgeoning romance between two ill-matched young men: Lincoln (Shayne Gray), an affluent white teenager; and John (Thang Chan), a working-class emigré born to a Vietnamese mother and an American G.I. Following their fleeting liaison in the front of the family station wagon, Lincoln unexpectedly invites John to spend the night navigating the Delta on his father’s boat. As the two drift deeper down the Mississippi, Lincoln’s casual indifference contrasts gravely with the fixed purposefulness of John’s affection and the desperate intensity with which he contemplates their union.

In his tender exploration of the politics of class, sexuality and racial difference, Sachs manages to transcend the symbolic weight of his characterization, creating a film of great depth and anguished complexity. It is this achievement which challenges the audience to regard John and Lincoln as more consequential than just the issues they embody. Shot on a shoestring budget, The Delta has a vérité style and potent non-actor cast that lend the film an arresting authenticity. However, it is Ira Sachs’s superb direction that fuels The Delta’s raw intensity and ephemeral beauty.

— Rebecca Yeldham

Screening Details

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