Midway Then And Now
The documentary’s central and driving event is the relocation, and it’s a grueling, painstaking and fascinating process. But Cheshire‘s story covers more ground than the move--it‘s about the passing of time, the importance of place and family, the state of race relations past and present, and the shift from one era to the next. Actually, it’s a superbly crafted cinematic essay on the evolving South and a profound commentary on America’s culture and its roots. .
Cheshire begins the film with a history of Midway, built in 1848 and so named because it was midway between other homes occupied by his forebears, the Hinton family, who’d been granted a huge tract of land by the English crown during the 1700s. Cheshire gives us a good history lesson about the cultural and economic significance plantations. To define the importance of plantations in American cultural and economic history, and examine our commonly held perceptions about them, Cheshire uses footage from Gone With The Wind and Birth of A Nation. This is one example of how Cheshire‘s critical knowledge of cinema serves his own filmmaking.
Uprooting The Family Tree
Charlie and his siblings, and first cousin Godfrey, spent much of their youth at Midway, which was then ruled by the family matriarch, Miss Mimi, a strictly Southern lady who, they say, still haunts the house. Using family photos, home movies and filmed interviews, Cheshire introduces us to his extended family. Charlie, Aunts, cousins and others deliver rheir thoughts about the meaning of Midway and what the move signifies. They are all concerned about what Miss Mary will think and do, and what they might expect by way of her paranormal activities.
The family’s connection to the plantation land is brought home by the depth of emotion the gathered clan feels with the felling of 200-year-old trees. The magnificent oaks have to be taken down to make room for the house to be moved, but seeing them cut down and hauled away brings tears to everyone‘s eyes.
Reuniting Family With New Bonds of Friendship
Being descended from slave owners and having an unrecognized branch of the family are tough subjects, but Cheshire doesn’t back away. However, unlike director Katrina Browne's approach to her family history-based documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story From The Deep North, Cheshire doesn't focus primarily on the quest for reconciliation or relief from familial guilt. Nevertheless, the plan to move Midway brings the filmmaker into contact with Robert Hinton, whose grandfather, Dempsey Hinton, was born into slavery at Midway in 1860. Robert, a professor in NYU’s African Studies program, participates in Moving Midway as pivotal character. He's the project’s historian and represents his branch of the family. The family reunion is quite moving, especially at the moment when Robert Hinton and Charlie Silver break a bottle of champagne over the mansion as one would on the bow of a ship that’s being christened. The house is equally important to both of them, and its important that both are there to mark the transition from one era to the next, from the first century and a half of the house's existence to what will hopefully be the next 150 years.
Cheshire's Gentle Southern Style
- Release date: September 12, 2008, in NY, followed by roll out to other cities
- Parents Guide: Add content advisory
- Runtime: 95 min
- Country: USA
- Language: English
- Filming Locations: North Carolina
- Distribution company: First Run Features