The DC premiere (November 13) of Godfrey Cheshire’s documentary Moving Midway was a real joy — not only the first screening in the nation’s capital but also the first screening anywhere since the election of Barack Obama, an event which can’t help but impact the experience of viewing the film.
Moving Midway, as mentioned in an earlier post, explores the history of a plantation home that had belonged to Cheshire’s relatives since before the Civil War (on land that had belonged to the family since before the American Revolution) and the decision by the home’s current occupant to relocate the house to avoid encroaching urban sprawl. In the process of documenting this story, Cheshire also discovers an African-American branch of the family, who have different ties to and attitudes about the house and its history.
I won’t attempt a full review here; there are plenty of laudatory ones out there already, in The L.A. Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times and The New Yorker, among many other publications. But I do want to offer a few highlights that stood out to me, both from the film itself and from the post-screening discussion with Cheshire and with Robert Hinton, associate producer and professor of Africana Studies at New York University:
I was particularly impressed, for example, with the way that Cheshire, drawing on his background as a film critic, incorporated commentary about depictions of plantation life and of Southern life in general in films ranging from Birth of a Nation to Gone With the Wind to Roots, with snippets of other films ranging from Disney’s Song of the South to those Bette Davis classics Jezebel and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. (And I was equally impressed with the fact that Cheshire said his film critic self was never second-guessing his filmmaker self at any stage of the creative process.)
I adored the scene where Cheshire discussed how this wasn’t the first time he had helped move part of a plantation, showing a shot of himself as a child holding up a mantelpiece, and then worked through a series of stories that led back to a startling revelation about where that mantelpiece came from — itself a testament to how the legacy of the Old South literally persists into the New.
The cinematography by Jay Spain was enthralling — particularly in those heartbreaking shots of the trees being cut down (shots that work on you long before anyone on-screen even begins to react) and in those scenes where Midway first began to move. Those images of workers darting around wheels or standing underneath the house or sweating in tight close-ups tell a story all their own.
It was interesting to hear Cheshire’s post-show comment about how storytelling not only helps people to remember but also to forget.
And it was also interesting in that discussion to hear the difference in Cheshire’s and Hinton’s reaction to the election and to what it means in terms of the nation’s growth and development. Cheshire referenced the title of the film, reiterating that we as a country are moving but are only midway where we might ultimately be. Hinton, while celebrating an event that he said he had never expected to see in his lifetime, noted that he was nonethless a product of the Sixties (in the process invoking memories of King and Malcolm X and the Kennedys) and said he was still waiting for the “shot” and wouldn’t entirely believe that Obama will be President until Inauguration Day.
On a much lighter note, and on personal level — as someone who lived in Raleigh for many years and worked with Godfrey for several of those — it was a real treat to see people and places I know so well up on the big screen, from a former (and favorite) Southern lit professor, Lucinda Mackethan, to Godfrey’s mother (a delight both on-screen and off), to Big Ed Watkins, lording over the downtown Raleigh restaurant that bears his name.
Moving Midway still has a number of upcoming screenings planned: Alaska, Oregon, Ohio and back to Virginia between Christmas and New Year’s. Additionally, the DVD is scheduled for February release — a must-watch for anyone interested in Southern history or the changing nature of race relations.
Other recommended upcoming events:
- Poets A.B. Spellman and Gardner McFall headlining a celebration of Poet Lore as the nation’s oldest continuously operating poetry journal begins its 120th year — Sunday, November 16, 2-4 p.m., at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
- Cheryl’s Gone Reading & Performance Series, with George Mason University alum Anna Habib reading from her memoir A Block from Bliss Street, along with D.C. poet Cathy Eisenhower, haiku poet Roberta Beary, and musician Andy Rothwell — Thursday, November 20, at 8 p.m. (sharp!) at Big Bear Cafe, 1st and R Streets NW, Washington, DC.
- And more poets at the Writer’s Center: Mason alumn Brian Broduer and Mason professor Eric Pankey — Sunday, November 23, at 2 p.m.
— Art Taylor