Good Housekeeping

Moving Midway
Running time 95 minutes
Written and
directed by Godfrey Cheshire

Godfrey Cheshire’s Moving Midway, from his own screenplay, provides a profound meditation on the paradoxes of race in America through a discovery of his own Southern family’s hitherto hidden secrets. Mr. Cheshire, a transplanted Northern film critic, was impelled to make the film when he learned that a North Carolina relative named Charlie Hinton was planning to move an 1848 plantation house known as Midway from its commercially overrun community outside of Raleigh, N.C., to an empty field some miles away.

But the film was shaped also by a second discovery, that of the existence in New York of another Hinton, Robert, an African-American professor of African studies at New York University, from a letter printed in The New York Times and signed “Robert Hinton.” Robert Hinton emerges as a charismatic figure, making possible a modest reconciliation between the planters and their slave descendants within one very extended family forged in the exploitative crucible of slavery.

Mr. Cheshire takes a sardonic look at the “Plantation Myths” in the pre-Civil War “Moonlight and Magnolias” school of fiction, and its Hollywood magnifications, from Birth of a Nation in 1915 to Gone With the Wind in 1939. He also cites the countervailing view of slavery propounded in the immensely popular television miniseries Roots.

But the central section of the film is focused on the prodigious engineering feat involved in moving a two-story house an enormous distance to its new foundations.

As history, spectacle and very mixed emotions on both sides of the Hinton heritage coalesce into Mr. Cheshire’s well-modulated masterwork of affability and good manners, America’s unfinished racial business comes into a misty focus. In short, Moving Midway is the clearest and most coherent contemplation of race in America of the three movies I have reviewed this week.

asarris@observer.com