(director/writer: Chantal Akerman; cinematographer: Raymond Fromont; editor: Claire Atherton; Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Xavier Carniaux; Icarus Films; 1999-France/Belgium-in English)

The sobering and haunting film acts as a meditation on racial hatred.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Chilling true story about racial hatred in the rural south that’s directed in a low-key but involving way by acclaimed Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman(“A Couch in New York”/”Tomorrow We Move”/”The Captive”).The first 15 minutes are spent without narration taking us on a tour of an unnamed city’s black community in a sleepy rural southern town, where we view the poor houses and the barren landscape of the farm community. We then learn the town is Jasper, Texas, and in 1998 three white supremacists chained to the back of their pickup truck the peaceful black man James Byrd Jr. and during the night on a 3-mile stretch down a deserted summer country road in the black section dragged the victim and left him beheaded and his mutilated body by a black cemetery, with pieces of flesh strewn along the road. The men were quickly arrested, and said their motive was to kill a black man to restore white pride and as a symbolic gesture to drive the blacks out of the country.The victim’s Christian family refused to call for a violent payback and in a black church memorial service for the victim we hear the congregation call for tolerance and a better racial unity in town.

The sobering and haunting film acts as a meditation on racial hatred and on the old and new South, as it briefly explores the town’s racial makeup, its past and current racial problems, the twisted beliefs of the dangerous Christian Aryan hate group and the town’s hopes for the future in overcoming racial hatred. The film ends bringing up ghosts from the South’s past history of bigotry by going over the entire 3-mile death route and allowing us to picture for ourselves that torturous execution scene that might remind some of the crucifixion.