This Friday, visionary Georgia documentary General Orders No. 9. begins a limited theatrical run at GSU's Cinefest. The film, which World Premiered at the 2009 Atlanta Film Festival, caught heat the following January at the Slamdance Film Festival where it won the cinematography award. The film, a meditative tone poem the combines Southern nostalgia, folklure, history, and anecdotes with striking landscapes and picturesque imagery, defies simple description—the best I've seen is Hammer to Nail's Michael Tully who wrote that film made Terrance Mallick's Tree of Life "look like a spright shot of Hollywood." Here's the trailer:
Inspired by this unconventional documentary look at the South, here are nine other southern docs. (With apologies to Ken Burns, whose epic Civil War documentary remains a milestone of the form, we're going to exclude the film from this list just because we feel like it.)
1. Anything by Ross McElwee: Sherman's March, Bright Leaves, Time Indefinite:
Arguably the best chronicler of the American South, McElwee's first person documentary films fuse his personal insights with a quest for historical, anecdotal and personal truth. From the Museum of Modern Art: "McElwee makes the grandest themes of human comedy his artistic province: love and death, chance and fate, memory and denial, the marvelous and the appalling."
Watch in this clip below from Sherman's March as McElwee begins with convential archival documentary footage about the march, and then juxtaposes it with the most mundane, albeit wryly comic, episode about being left by his girlfriend and a layover in a desolate New York City loft.
2. Freedom Riders: After premiering at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and touring the festival circuit (including a memorable opening night screening at the Atlanta Film Festival), Stanley Nelson's thorough, and thought provoking documentary debuted on PBS's "American Experience" to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the actual rides. Here's the film in its entirety:
3. Dancing Outlaw: Imagine the real life "Dukes of Hazzard" auditioning for "So You Think You Can Dance." Stereotypical? Exploitative? Or the celebration of a sub-culture? You decide:
4. Trials of Darryl Hunt: This film, the story of redemption and forgiveness by wrongly convicted prisoner Darryl Hunt, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after 19 and a half years in prison.
5. Strange Fruit: The story behind the haunting jazz ballad, the film examines the history of the verse (written by a Bronx school teacher, a Jewish activist), examines the phenomenon of lynching and includes episodes about Billie Holiday, Rosenbergs, and other cul de sac's. It's strange film about a great song.
6. Bama Girl: Like something out of "Glee" or Bring it On, a black college student bucks the system in a quest to become homecoming queen at UAB.
7. Kati with an i: Robert Greene's intimate portrait of his half-sister in the three days leading up to her graduation from her small town Piedmont, Alabama High School.
8. While Prom Night in Mississippi chronicles the first integrated prom in Charleston Mississippi, in 2008(!), at the behest of Morgan Freeman.
9. Louisiana Story Genre godfather Robert Flaherty's visually striking portrait of life on bayou is made even more epic thanks to a score by Virgil Thomson.
Complete screening information here:
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