Posted by Ken Spivey
Filmmaker Godfrey Cheshire returned to his ancestral home, Midway Plantation, in 2003. When he arrived he found his cousin, Charlie Silver, about to move the southern mansion to make way for a shopping complex. “Moving Midway” is the story of Midway’s past, present journey, and future home.
The film should have been as simple as this summary suggests. The entire project, in theory, would be reminiscent of a “Discovery Channel” half hour special on the mechanics of moving a large structure. Instead, we are given a post-modern treatise on the American South. We learn that Midway Plantation held many truths, each one of them as valid and distinct as the other. In addition, we are treated with a glimpse into the history of the slaves from Midway. This story is told through the lens of Midway slave descendant and NYU professor of African-American Studies, Dr. Robert Hinton.
Hinton is the primary figure with whom I take issue with in this film, and in my opinion this overshadows every other aspect of the film. He approaches history as “self therapy,” seeing his study of the American South as a way to heal his family’s slave wounds. At Civil War re-enactments, he interviews participants and asks them their opinions on the cause of the war. They question the popular response of “slavery” as the primary cause for the war, instead bringing up “state’s rights.” Hinton then promptly belittles them in the next scene, stating that slavery was obviously the cause of the war, and any other reasoning is ignoring the underlying reality of the conflict. Given, slavery is a terrible institution. Yet, to allow it to shadow every portion of one’s view of an historical event is a clear failure in the academic’s pursuit of objectivity. In addition, Cheshire’s decision to include without rebuttal Dr. Hinton’s commentary in such a manner suggests to me some form of hatred of one’s past, to shadow one’s ancestors as merely “users of men” as opposed to “Confederate separatists.”
The film could have been great, with a decent editor. Yet it lacked focus, and wished to be too many things at once. It had a quaint soundtrack, was well filmed, and I found the actual process of moving a plantation rather interesting. Though I would not recommend the film to a friend for pleasurable viewing, I am sure it has merit for some educational purpose.
02/27/2009 @ 4:46 am
I’ve seen many excellent and informative films on the history of the South. It doesn’t sound like this one would equal or surpass any of those films in that respect. But moving a mansion I’ve never seen! I wouldn’t have thought it could be done. This I have to see!