Friday, March 17, 2006
Kevin Willmott, an independent filmmaker who maintains his steady income by teaching film, creates a thought-provoking faux documentary withConfederate States of America
(CSA), which considers what the world would be like today if the South had won the Civil War. Willmott formats his film like a Ken Burns-PBS style documentary in which two historians, a white American (Rupert Pate) and an African-Canadian (Evamarii Johnson), lead us through the history of the Confederate States of America. This "documentary" is presented as something that had been prevented from being shown.
These historians explore centuries of Confederate politics and racial struggle as the nation fights to preserve slavery and an antebellum way of life, while also attempting to maintain world power.
Unlike a public television documentary, however, this one is interrupted by commercials advertising Confederate products'such as insurance that covers family, home and slaves or modern day shackles to keep your slave from running off. Willmott uses of footage he fabricates, old government information films, television commercials, and actual stock footage to tell this re-imagining of American history.
The results are wildly erratic. There are moments of brilliant and invective social and political satire combined with an inconsistent narrative. Take for example the fate of Abraham Lincoln. In this faux documentary, Lincoln is not assassinated but rather has to flee America with the help of Harriet Tubman and we're told is relegated to historical oblivion. But later in the film we are shown John Kennedy and others talking about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation and giving Lincoln a place in history. It's as if Willmott forgot that earlier he wanted Lincoln to be entirely forgotten. Similarly, this documentary being shown, we're told, is being shown uncut and uncensored for the first time. That works for setting up the show but it makes no sense -- why wasn't it shown before, what would have been censored? If Willmott wants to create a fake scenario, he still has to make it believable.
The film actually scores its best hit with the epilogue where is points out the fact that many of the products cited in the film were real (although they are so absurd as to seem a comic invention) and that some of the faux history came dangerously close to happening. The end of the epilogue reminds us that slave imagery still exists, "just ask Uncle Ben or Aunt Jemima." That ending may be the most potent thing about the film.
Confederate States of America (unrated) has received official support from Spike Lee who is now listed as one of the film's executive producers and from veteran African American director Melvin Van Peebles. This seems to give both black and white audiences permission to laugh at what you sometimes feel is material that defies all political correctness. As a film, Confederate States of America is often hilarious and provocative but it is cleverer in its inspiration than its execution. -----