Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Two new docs: 'Silver Dollar Road' and 'Joan Baez I Am a Noise'

Silver Dollar Road


In the documentary Silver Dollar Road, director Raoul Peck tells a complex story about betrayal, racism, and the separation of a family from land it thought it could occupy in perpetuity. Peck depicts many layers of injustice, but the one that seems to stand out most is the eight-year imprisonment of two members of the Reels family, men who refused to vacate their homes along Adams Creek in North Carolina. A story of dislocation begins when one of the family members claims ownership of the land and sells it to a developer. The patriarch of the family -- Elijah Reels -- bought the land in 1912 and left it to his entire amily when he died. The land became "heirs'' property, and although Elijah Reels left no will, the family contended they had a legal right to it. Peck talks to family members and details the battle they were forced to fight. Apart from the legal tangles, monetary strain, and a disputed way of life, Peck uses interviews and images of the land to show that the family once found a home that allowed them to support themselves and sustain a way of life, even when southern racism roiled around them. Based on a 2019 article that appeared in ProPublica, the movie calls attention to how many Black families systematically have been deprived of land since the days of  Reconstruction. Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) deals with denied justice but also shows how land can (and could again) be the basis for community survival. 

Joan Baez I Am a Noise

I didn’t know much about the life of Joan Baez before watching Joan Baez I Am a Noise, a documentary about the singer’s life  and career. Now, I may know too much. Directors Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle, and Karen O’Connor take a deep dive into Baez’s tumultuous life. What differentiates the film from ordinary bio-docs is Baez, who talks frankly about heartbreak (the end of her relationship with Bob Dylan), failed marriage, sibling rivalries, career missteps, civil rights and anti war activism, and childhood abuse. Baez never felt at peace, despite the sense of calm abiding her music sometimes reflected. Baez isn't shy about revealing herself, even including a bit of  taped dialogue from a therapy session. Baez, who was 79 when much of the film was shot, is now 82. Age seems to have encouraged her to take an unflinching look at her story. The documentary makes us aware that Baez has lived an amazing, if often roiling, life. I never thought of Baez’s music as “a noise.” It’s her life — a mixture of expression, activism, and fame - that made the noise to which her music can seem like a beautiful counterpoint, perhaps even a grace note.

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