The historical and the personal converge in Moving Midway, Godfrey Cheshire’s analytical and emotive portrait of ancestral roots and antebellum mystique. Shot during the New York City-based critic’s 2004 visit to his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, the documentary contemplates the South as a source of heritage both invaluable and conflicting: The plantation as a trove of history, family, and tradition and as an often problematically romanticized image. Midway is the name of the plantation mansion that’s been the home of the filmmaker’s family since the 1800s, and when plans for a new strip mall threaten its place, the title of the film is literalized. Hoisted onto a dolly and trucked away to its new location, the building becomes a graceful metaphor for the weight of the past in the face of steamrolling progress. It also becomes irresistibly reminiscent of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo or, as Cheshire points out, a dislocated movie set. Cheshire’s background as a film writer is particularly acute as he connects his old family home to the movie theater as places of fantasy and escape (both, as it turns out, are haunted—Midway reportedly by the spirit of the family’s eccentric matriarch, the cinema by such thorny phantoms as The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind). First and foremost, however, Moving Midway is a rich, heartfelt document about people dealing with the legacy inescapably embedded in their DNA, with Cheshire locating human connections that, by addressing the past while extending across age and race barriers, posit a hopeful future. Chief among the film’s connections is NYU professor Robert Hinton’s own search for his ancestry in Midway, where his grandfather was born a slave; Hinton’s humane pragmatism about the South—“I’m perfectly happy to have them fighting the war, as long as they keep losing,” he laughs while witnessing a Civil War reenactment—contributes to the film’s deft balance of emotions. Made with inquisitive intelligence and fondness, Moving Midway shows how looking at culture and looking at one’s own history are one and the same for a committed critic.
- 98 min
- Godfrey Cheshire
- Godfrey Cheshire
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