I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the heyday of the American mall. Indoor malls were everywhere. They reinvigorated the retail business and gave the community a place to shop, eat, socialize and even to exercise. With the advent of online shopping and the birth of new retail concepts, the indoor mall is rapidly losing its appeal. Countless videos on YouTube show tours of abandoned malls that only have a few businesses running, are on the verge of foreclosure or are just days before shutting down. It’s quite depressing to watch especially for those of us who remember these malls as bustling hubs of activity.
Bradford Thomasson and Brett Whitcomb’s new documentary Jasper Mall, chronicles one year in the life of a declining mall: Jasper Mall in Jasper, Alabama. What used to be a happening place swarming with teenagers is now a quiet space with only a handful of shops and eateries still open. What keeps the mall going is the dedication of the mall’s manager, whom the film follows closely throughout the year, the elderly visitors who walk the length of the mall for exercise, the Army recruitment center, and the mall’s one remaining anchor store. Despite all the manager’s attempts to keep the mall going, including hosting community events, a Santa Claus meet and greet and inviting a traveling carnival to use the mostly empty parking lot, the mall continues on its steady decline. It’s not a hopeful documentary but there is something inspiring about watching someone fight for something they care for even when our culture threatens to leave that behind.
Jasper Mall is a fascinating look at a dying enterprise: the American mall.
Jasper Mall had its world premiere at the 2020 Slamdance as part of their Documentary competition.