Story last updated at 12/3/2008 - 2:02 pm
When New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire learned his cousin was planning to uproot Midway Plantation and move it across land to avoid the urban sprawl of Raleigh, North Carolina, he knew he had to get it on film.
Originally planned as just a family document, Cheshire decided to make his first full-length feature after discovering an African-American branch of his own family tree. His ancestor, Charles Louis Hinton, who built the plantation, fathered a son by the plantation cook, a slave named Selanie.
Cheshire finds Robert Hinton, director of Africana Studies at New York University, who also traces his ancestry to slaves at Midway. Unrelated by blood but tied through the plantation where both their ancestors lived, the two begin an exploration of the meaning of the plantation in general and their own family histories and identities.
"I think to be a healthy individual or a healthy culture you have to know where you came from and how you got to be where you are," Robert says. "I cannot make sense of myself without understanding this house and being involved with this house."
I found Godfrey's elderly mother "Sis" one of the most fascinating characters in the film. She drags Godfrey and Robert to a Civil War reenactment - Robert says he doesn't mind the reenactments as long as the South keeps on losing - and refuses to look at the shopping mall that is built up almost as soon as Midway is moved off the land.
The most moving segments of the film come when Sis meets Abraham Lincoln Hinton, the African-American great-grandson of Charles Louis Hinton, and they share laughter viewers don't quite understand. We are led to believes that there is something only their generation understands. Maybe, despite the horrors of slavery, something is lost when landscapes once dominated by plantations turn into impersonal strip malls.
"Moving Midway" is a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of the Southern plantation and transformations taking place in the South today, but it is also testament to the universal significance to knowing where you come from.
And nothing makes moving across Juneau seem easy like watching a family attempt to move an entire southern plantation over land.
- Katie Spielberger