By Brad Wilke | April 12, 2009

Macky Alston makes compelling first-person documentaries that peel away the layers of his life to reveal a true portrait of both the filmmaker and the person.

“Family Name” is an exploration of his family roots in Durham, North Carolina. Growing up, Macky never questioned why he was the only white Alston at his elementary school. Nearly 25 years later, Macky decides to return to his hometown and investigate his family history, hoping to learn more about who he is by understanding where he’s from.

Over the course of the film, Alston delves deeper and deeper into his family history, eventually discovering that his family was involved in the Southern slave trade. Needless to say, this is quite an eye-opening revelation. While providing additional context for the journey, it also helps to frames Macky’s parallel experience as an outsider: a homosexual in a predominantly straight community.

Unflinching in his exploration, Macky Alston doggedly searches for clues from family members and strangers alike. Over the course of the film, Alston touches on many disparate subjects, but focuses mainly on race relations and family history. As it turns out, these are both intertwined in more ways than Alston could have imagined.

One of the final segments involves an interview with Macky Alston’s father, a devout Christian, who relates a key moment in his life that produced a life-long interest and passion for civil rights. This interview is a great way to wrap-up the film, allowing it to come full circle and to provide a small amount of closure to what is a very wide-ranging topic.

“Family Name” is definitely worth seeking out…a great addition to the canon of first-person documentaries that both explore and enlighten.

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