Monday, September 10, 2007

Provocative questions at Charlotte filmfest

What does it mean to be a Southerner? And what is our place in the larger world?

I had the chance to reflect on these questions over the weekend after watching the Charlotte Film Festival selections "Moving Midway" and "Facing Sudan."

The first, "Midway," is a documentary about a Raleigh man examining his family's history as plantation owners. His cousin, who inherited a plantation home held in the family since before the Civil War, recently responded to encroaching development by deciding to sell his land, pick up the plantation home and move it via an elaborate system of steel beams, cables and trucks to an undisturbed tract a few miles away.

Much of my family hails from the South. So for me the film was an occasionally painful experience. It examines why Southerners proudly consider themselves, as UNC-Charlotte professor Owen Furuseth recently said in my article about Southern stereoypes, "somehow different from the rest of the country," yet feel compelled to rationalize the South's shameful role in perpetuating slavery. It examines the "plantation myth," a la "Gone With the Wind," which portrays the tracts as places where only genteel traditions were practiced and of course every slave was treated kindly. And it explains why, even today, developers have no qualms about including the word "plantation" in the name of a shopping center or neighborhood.

A newcomer once told me of her shock about that practice when she learned of the Providence Plantation neighborhood in Charlotte. And the shopping center built where the titular Midway once stood in Raleigh now bears the name "Shoppes at Midway Plantation." Until I spoke to that newcomer, it had never struck me as strange - the word "plantation" in my mind primarily evoked images of white-columned homes and magnolia trees. Now, it evokes conflicting feelings to know that plantations are part of my family's heritage.

Sunday, the festival wrapped up with the documentary "Facing Sudan." It was a harsh - yet occasionally hopeful - look of the genocide that has torn apart Africa's largest country, generating mostly indifference from the rest of the world. It left me reeling to learn the conflict there has cost more lives than Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Somalia combined, yet has generated comparatively little public attention. It left me wondering how people can be so inhuman to one another.

It also proposed solutions, such as investing in charities that are building wells in Sudan and giving its tribal people some much-needed safety and stability. And it gave an inspiring look at those who participate in the work of Doctors Without Borders, bringing medical care to those who so desperately need it.

I am grateful to the organizers of the festival for bringing works that provoke such thought, reflection and desire for change. While I enjoy the occasional brainless Hollywood film as much as the next person, I'm glad that some filmmakers take their roles more seriously and I'm glad for the chance to see works I wouldn't see otherwise. There's another film festival coming up soon in Charlotte, the Cackalacky Film Festival, Oct. 18-21, Festivals like these are a chance to provide some much-needed support for independent film.

Did anyone else out there make it to the filmfest? If so, what did you think?


Blogger Lori said...

Hi Leigh,
My family and I moved here a little over a year ago. Even though we moved here after having lived in Ohio for 4 years, we are originally from Memphis,TN. But one of the first things that struck me (and not in a good way) was the near constant use of the word "plantation" in Charlotte's suburban housing areas/communities/neighborhoods.

As an African American, the word "plantation" doesn't exactly stir fond memories or even nice images of magnolias in my mind (smile).

Not long ago, one of the Moms on my son's baseball team, who, herself is a transplant from NY, encouraged us to look for a home in the Providence Plantation neighborhood. I sort of smiled and told her, "You know, I really would rather not live on a plantation . . ."

We both had a good laugh about it. Even though I try to maintain a good sense of humor about the "plantation issue" and I'm sure the insensitivity is, for the most part, unintentional, sometimes I do wonder . . .

1:48 PM  

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