Inspired by her love of William Faulkner and James Baldwin, renowned director Chantal Akerman had planned to produce a meditation on the American South. However, just days before she was to begin filming, James Byrd, Jr. was murdered in Jasper, Texas. A black family man, Byrd has been severely beaten by three white men, chained to their truck, and dragged three miles through predominately black parts of the county.
This racially motivated killing shook the country, and revealed the intense hate that still lies just beneath the surface of our society. Instead of following the story in a typical American media fashion, Akerman allows the story to slowly unfold on its own. Long, panning shots set the stage, creating the world of Jasper. Patient interviews reveal the thoughts and emotions of the local townspeople. Akerman’s access to their lives, including being allowed to film Byrd’s funeral, allows her to tell the tale in a pensive and beautiful fashion.
Alternating static shots and dolly shots, Akerman reconstitutes the horrible incident. “We found pieces of his body all along the road,” says one witness. But this is not an anatomy of his murder, nor the autopsy of a black man lynched by three white males. Rather, it is an evocation of how this event fits in to a landscape and climate that is as much mental as physical.
“Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation"
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