Inspired by her love of William Faulkner and James Baldwin, renowned director Chantal Akerman had planned to produce a meditation on the American South. However, just days before she was to begin filming, James Byrd, Jr. was murdered in Jasper, Texas. A black family man, Byrd has been severely beaten by three white men, chained to their truck, and dragged three miles through predominately black parts of the county.
This racially motivated killing shook the country, and revealed the intense hate that still lies just beneath the surface of our society. Instead of following the story in a typical American media fashion, Akerman allows the story to slowly unfold on its own. Long, panning shots set the stage, creating the world of Jasper. Patient interviews reveal the thoughts and emotions of the local townspeople. Akerman's access to their lives, including being allowed to film Byrd's funeral, allows her to tell the tale in a pensive and beautiful fashion.
Alternating static shots and dolly shots, Akerman reconstitutes the horrible incident. "We found pieces of his body all along the road," says one witness. But this is not an anatomy of his murder, nor the autopsy of a black man lynched by three white males. Rather, it is an evocation of how this event fits in to a landscape and climate that is as much mental as physical.
Akerman writes, "How does the southern silence become so heavy and so menacing so suddenly? How do the trees and the whole natural environment evoke so intensely death, blood, and the weight of history? How does the present call up the past? And how hoes this past, with a mere gesture or a simple regard, haunt and torment you as you wander along an empty cotton field, or a dusty country road?"
"Conjures the ghosts of the hate crimes and lynchings that have plagued that part of the U.S. for decades. [SOUTH] makes its sorrowful points succinctly." —Variety
1999 Cannes Film Festival, Directors Fortnight Section
1999 Toronto International Film Festival
1999 New York Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
2000 DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival
"Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation." —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
"The films of Chantal Akerman are the single most important and coherent body of work by a woman director in the history of the cinema." —The Film Center Gazette, School of the Art Institute of Chicago