Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moving Midway

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Film Critic Retraces His Slaveholding Roots in Thumbs-Up Documentary

New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire hails from Raleigh, North Carolina where his ancestors settled in 1739. His slave-owning family kept the sprawling plantation intact for generations, even after emancipation. Then, in 2004, the heirs decided to sell the land to real estate developers who wanted to turn the place into Shoppes at Midway Plantation, a typical strip mall with stores like Walmart and Target.
Not wanting to eradicate their Southern roots entirely, they opted to save the mansion by having it hoisted off the ground in one piece and relocated to a rural piece of property elsewhere. That Herculean effort is the superficial focus of Moving Midway, a documentary actually more interesting for its exploration of tangential issues surrounding the legacy of slavery.
For director Cheshire chose to track down some of the African-American descendants of folks who worked on the former tobacco farm and, not surprisingly, found a marked contrast in how they and his relatives feel about Midway. Fortunately, the discourse between the two sides is not only honest but quite cordial, thus allowing for a productive exchange of ideas and a valuable sharing of emotions.
Lately, there’s been a virtual cottage industry of these reverse-slumming, confessional bio-pics in which Caucasians own up to their shameful connection to slavery while reuniting with blacks related to them either by blood, exploitation or both. Moving Midway measures up to the best of the genre, including the equally-engaging Meeting David Wilson and Traces of the Trade.
Directed by movie historian Cheshire, the flick benefits immeasurably from a discussion detailing how screen classics like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind have shaped public opinion about slavery. Who would think that cinema could be the source of so many harmful myths and misconceptions which persist to this day?
An admirable examination of one family’s belated attempt to come to grips with, if not atone for, its role in America’s original sin.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 98 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

To see a trailer for Moving Midway, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I0yIGggvPI

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