South

Director: Chantal Akerman
France/Belgium / 1999 / 70 min

Inspired by her love of William Faulkner and James Baldwin, Chantal Akerman had planned to film a meditation on the American South. However, just days before shooting was to begin in Jasper, Texas, Black family man James Byrd, Jr. was severely beaten by three white men, chained to their truck, and dragged three miles. Akerman chose to instead turn her focus to this racially motivated killing that shook the county, but instead of following it in typical American-media fashion, she allows it to slowly unfold on its own, in part through patient interviews with local townspeople and long tracking shots. Akerman reconstitutes the horrible incident, but South is not an anatomy of a murder, or an autopsy of the lynching of a Black man. Rather, it is an evocation of how this event fits into a landscape and climate that is as much mental as physical.