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You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South (DVD Review)

17 Oct, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Street 10/18/11
$29.95 DVD
Not rated.

I’ve always admired the pulsating conviction behind some of the prize documentaries Lucy Massie Phenix has edited: Word Is Out, The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter and Regret to Inform, to name three. But I was flummoxed even trying to identify this comparably unknown look-back at the Highlander (TN) Research and Education Center — a sleeper that Phenix co-directed with Veronica Selver that was recently restored as part of the Center’s 80th anniversary.

Turns out that Move is multiple portraits in one, starting with bedrock stories of civil rights rectifications of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And then it more or less surprises: with a stand-up defense of abused Appalachian citizenry that’s right out of Barbara Kopple’s Oscar winner Harlan County, USA — followed by some environmentally propelled muckraking that might do Erin Brockovich proud. This is totally in keeping with Highlander’s history as a breeding ground for good old bedrock American activism whose civil rights alums alone include Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Harry Belafonte. Matter of fact, they even include film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum — who used his first-hand experience there to bolster his scalding pan of 1988’s Mississippi Burning, an in some ways powerful movie that nonetheless advanced the fiction that the ‘60s FBI cared very much about civil rights.

And if the Bureau was turning an eye, you can imagine the attitude of purely local power structures — the ones so incensed by a then uncommon social mix of the races (in, egad!, volleyball and square dancing). As a predictable result, they tried to shut it down via the usual accusations that it was a Communist Party breeding ground amid the net spikes and pernicious dosey-doe-dom. To this end, Phenix and her colleagues dug up some angry photos and vitriolic audio tracks from the actual trial that ensued, full of those town-father types we’ve seen again and again. You know: the establishment white guys who looked 15-20 years older than they likely were and probably reaped kickbacks from the local parking ticket concession. Or who may have read Nancy & Sluggo to grandchildren they no doubt loved or bankrolled a Schwinn or two for indigent children at Christmastime for all the good it did them via history’s judgment.

Slightly less heated, the rest of Move shows the degree to which individuals without a former education can still tap into their own innate intelligence — following a degree of instruction and perhaps some peer re-enforcement to give them confidence. Getting their eyes opened to the perils of strip-mining and toxic waste are, sadly, the same impoverished day-to-locals most adversely affected by the spoils (six of the most alarming words around can be “there’s something bad in the dump”). One of the most extraordinary scenes here – so good that you almost wonder if the youngsters were at all coached – involves two boys fishing at a stream and voicing savvy suspicions about what some corporation may have let loose in the water.

Move is an unearthed find from the Millarium Zero wing of Milestone Film & Video — distributed by Oscilloscope but also available from www.milestonefilms.com and www.yougottomove.com (also by calling 800/603-1104). Beyond the documentary’s remastering, there are several bonus featurettes, including an excerpt from a 1981 Bill Moyers Journal about Highlander co-founder Myles Horton called Adventures of a Radical Hillbilly. As titles go, that’s a pretty succinct summation of at least the second half of the main feature.

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