In 'Moving Midway,' A House And Its Home Truths

Robert Hinton and Godfrey Cheshire sit on steps i i

Family affairs: Academic Robert Hinton (left) and writer-producer Godfrey Cheshire confront the legacy of the plantation their families have in common. Conrad Richard Jordan/First Run Features hide caption

itoggle caption Conrad Richard Jordan/First Run Features
Robert Hinton and Godfrey Cheshire sit on steps

Family affairs: Academic Robert Hinton (left) and writer-producer Godfrey Cheshire confront the legacy of the plantation their families have in common.

Conrad Richard Jordan/First Run Features

Moving Midway

  • Director: Godfrey Cheshire
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

Not rated, but suitable for a general audience.

Midway house on a flatbed, moving down road i i

Oversize load: Midway Plantation on the move in rural North Carolina. Steven Crell/First Run Features hide caption

itoggle caption Steven Crell/First Run Features
Midway house on a flatbed, moving down road

Oversize load: Midway Plantation on the move in rural North Carolina.

Steven Crell/First Run Features

This documentary, in which an antebellum Southern mansion is hauled to a new location, has a fascinating story to tell. It's not about the house, though.

Writer-director Godfrey Cheshire, a New York-based film critic, grew up in North Carolina, where he frequented Midway — a plantation home, named for its location between two other family properties, that was inherited by Cheshire's cousin, Charlie "Pooh" Silver.

But the historic structure's highway location, Silver decides, belongs to the future. That is, to Target, Home Depot and other businesses identified on one sign as "shoppes."

So Silver sells what's left of Midway's land and finds a new, more remote location where he can simulate the plantation's former appearance. And Cheshire, accepting contemporary documentary's insistence on "process," dutifully follows the truck as it drags the 1848 house to its new home.

The director, who also narrates, tries to increase interest in Midway by suggesting it's haunted. But the yarn only gets really interesting when the director meets a living person: Robert Hinton, whose grandfather, the son of the estate's then-owner — and his cook — was born at Midway. Eventually, Cheshire learns he has more than 100 African-American relatives who descend from this liaison.

A professor of African Studies at New York University, Hinton offers the movie's deepest reflections — and deepest feelings. He cares less about the house than about the land where his enslaved ancestors worked, and were buried. A former radical who has come to accept his Southernness, Hinton is gracious and engaging, although he is still capable of being irked by how white North Carolinians view their history.

Cheshire contributes a less private analysis, considering such influential film and TV treatments of the old South as Roots, Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation (to which he claims a family link).

These remarks are reasonable, but not exactly startling. Anyone who doesn't know that Tara was a Hollywood-constructed fantasy probably isn't ready for Moving Midway.

By giving this story the first-person treatment, the director dares to be compared to Ross McElwee, whose forays to his native North Carolina have yielded such amusing personal documentaries as Sherman's March. McElwee is listed as a consultant on the film, but Cheshire and his relatives aren't so charmingly eccentric as McElwee and his brood. Moving Midway boasts some quirky comic moments, but it's most notable for furthering the all-too-serious discussion of the South's racial legacy.

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