Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ebert Thoughts ‘15—Moving Midway (2007) ****

UR, 95 min.
Director/Writer: Godfrey Cheshire
Featuring: Charles Silver, Robert Hinton, Godfrey Cheshire, Dena Silver, Abraham Hinton

“Moving Midway” is exactly the type of movie that makes Ebertfest the unique cinematic experience that it is. Sure, Ebertfest screens movies with big name stars. They program incredible auteur works. But you’ll also find these little surprises here. “Moving Midway” is one of those rare masterpieces that becomes so through heart and passion that shines through without the flash and flare of budgets and known commodities. These cinematic treasures often come in the form of a documentary. This year, it is “Moving Midway” that wows and moves me with its simple premise that informs one of the most compelling and ambitious films of this year’s festival.

“Moving Midway” tells the stories of the descendants of the Hinton family of Raleigh, North Carolina. When Charles Silver informs his New York film critic cousin Godfrey Cheshire that he plans to move the family’s plantation mansion from its original location, which has become congested with new real estate development, to a new location, Cheshire decides to film the moving of the house. What this leads to is a journey through history, the American plantation mythos and a social enlightenment about the hidden elements of race in the South created by the plantation establishment. There is more information in this documentary than in many multi-part History Channel documentaries.

It would’ve been easy to just film the delicate process of moving the plantation buildings across several miles of backcountry. The engineering alone involved in the move is enough for a good doc. But instead of just filmming the move, Cheshire digs into the history of the family and discovers the shocking truth that two separate lines developed from the Hintons who founded the Midway Plantation, one white and one black. Cheshire discovers a social warrior in Robert Hinton, a black man and cousin to the filmmaker and the Silver family. Hinton acts as the primary researcher on the film and brings a surprising perspective to the realities and attitudes of black life and how the plantation establishment shaped it.

Some less observant viewers might see the low budget production value of Cheshire’s camera work and personal rather than professional approach to his subject matter and mistake it for amateur filmmaking. In reality, the film is very well written and edited in such a matter the drives the story through its revelations and conclusions in a logical and dramatic way. “Moving Midway” is a magical film in the way it reveals so much of life’s riches through the lives of these people, who would probably still never know of each other’s existence and connections without the sad fact that urban sprawl forced the relocation of this historical landmark.

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