Tue 17 Jun, 2008
Tags: Broadcast, Human Rights Watch, Media coverage, P.O.V., PBS, Television
We’ve seen a spate of reviews, articles, and blog posts discussing Traces of the Trade in recent days, motivated largely by upcoming screenings at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and the forthcoming national broadcast premiere on PBS.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times calls the film a “far-reaching documentary” whose “implications … are devastating.” He also observes that “the old saying that ‘behind every great fortune there is a crime’ echoes silently throughout the movie, which extends that notion to implicate an entire society.”
The Hartford Advocate describes the film as a “well-researched, candid and intelligent exploration” of the role of the slave trade in our nation’s history. The reviewer also calls the documentary “gut-wrenching and intense” and “powerfully moving,” and concludes that this “glimpse into the still-raw wounds of slavery” is “perhaps the best way to honor the professed democratic ideals of the founding fathers.”
Jessica Mosby, writing for the Women’s International Perspective, heaps praise on the film, calling it “powerful” and “incredibly well executed,” and its discussions “intense” and “very candid.” She goes on to argue that the documentary “starts an important and often uncomfortable dialogue about race,” and that “the film is truly a microcosm for the larger debate that Americans need to have about race and responsibility.”
Mosby’s review emphasizes the variety of perspectives represented in the film, observing that “different family members felt very differently about guilt and responsibility.” She also takes care to point out that while not everyone has such a dramatic family background, the benefits from slavery were spread throughout the U.S. economy, and all Americans can, and should, participate in the conversation.
According to am New York (“Manhattan’s largest circulation daily”), the film is “a work of poetic introspection … at once a haunting ghost story and powerful soul-baring apology.” Traces of the Trade “simultaneously takes on an important subject and proves its maker’s mastery of the documentary form.”
Other newspapers term the documentary “poignant,” “clever throughout,” and “soft-spoken but intensely worded.” Another reviewer proclaims the film “sensitive,” “emotional,” and “thoughtful,” while a columnist describes the film as “a stark reminder of how far this nation has come—and the distance it must yet go to live up to its great promise.”
The magazine In These Times says that “the most interesting part is watching DeWolf family members slowly owning the problem”: “What could have been just another bath in liberal guilt becomes a frank and fascinating examination into the ways that the privileged make their peace with inequality.” The reviewer, Pat Aufderheide, concludes that “Traces of the Trade has spurred provocative conversations at festivals …. Its TV debut could provide an opportunity for broader and deeper dialogue—at a timely moment, when the national elections have brought race back into focus.”
Online, Filmcritic.com gives Traces four stars, calling it “thought-provoking work in the way that few films ever come close to even attempting.” Newsblaze refers to the film as “a remarkable documentary … brave and sobering … a labor of love.” Culturekiosque tells its readers that, “in this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, the film offers powerful new perspectives on the black/white divide.”
David Crumm, at the inspirational site Read the Spirit, reviews the film for religious audiences and finds it “remarkable” and “stunning,” urging churchgoers to watch the film in small groups and hold discussions afterwards. He points out that the film does not always take viewers where they expect, noting that “there are moments in the film in which [the director] completely surprises us by adding other voices to the story—including scenes at the very end of the film.”
A variety of bloggers have also commented on the film in recent days. Lauren Wissot, the director and film critic who writes at The House Next Door, proclaims Traces her “top pick … for mesmerizing subject matter” at the Human Rights Watch festival, while another blogger announces that the “film is a great start to a dialogue I hope every American will eventually embrace.”
Finally, from the always thoughtful and thought-provoking blog, Know Good White People, comes this plea:
I want to write something compelling that will make you want to NOT MISS THIS FILM, but every review I attempt does not do this documentary justice, so I’ll just say TUNE IN to PBS and watch this one — You’ll be glad you did.
Traces of the Trade will be screened on Sunday, June 22 and Monday, June 23 at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center in New York City, and will have its national broadcast premiere on the PBS series P.O.V. starting on June 24 at 10:00pm. (Check local listings for the date and time in your area.)