Southern Discomfort

Moving Midway Is More Than Just A Documentary About An Old House

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Movie critic Godfrey Cheshire's debut documentary, Moving Midway, is ostensibly about transporting a 160-year-old house from one location to another. But it's really about century-old race relations and how they tie into Cheshire's knotted family history.

When New Yorker Cheshire went to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2004 to document his cousin Charlie Silver's plan to move the family plantation, Midway, to a less congested part of town, he figured the only ghost he'd run across was his great-great aunt, who's rumored to haunt the grounds. But he found a much larger spirit looming over the homestead.

Turns out that one of Cheshire and Silver's ancestors knocked up one of the family's slaves. Enter New York University professor Dr. Robert Hinton, another of the slaves' descendants. Of course, Hinton has entirely different feelings about the plantation.

At the center of Moving Midway is the sprawling two-story mansion that was built in 1848. The once-tranquil home has become surrounded by shopping centers, a housing development and a busy highway. So Charlie packs up the plantation and literally moves it across town. "I'll just put wheels underneath dollies and put a truck on the front of it, and haul it off," he says.

And indeed, the scenes of Midway actually moving are among the film's best. Still, the film is about more than merely relocating the family home; it's a historical and cultural look at Southern discomforts. At one point, Cheshire attends a family reunion where he's the only white guy. "Learning that I have over a hundred African-American blood relations is the final blow to the old myth of white racial purity," he says.

Plenty of history profs and other talking heads offer their expert opinions on plantations, master-slave relations and other tales of the Old South. Occasionally, Moving Midway gets a bit too academic in its exploration of the Hinton kin and its relation to the region. But this family tree branches off into unexpected and often compelling directions.

Moving Midway, Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, December 13, and at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, December 14.

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