By John Clapp | November 2, 2008

What is grace, and is there enough of it in our world? These are hefty questions, to be sure, and director Mark Scalese tackles them in his sweet documentary, “Greetings from Havre de Grace,” which takes a look at a quaint Maryland town that bears the same name (minus the “Greetings from,” of course).

Inspired by having repeatedly seen the town’s curious name (translation: “harbor of grace” or “safe harbor”) on an I-95 exit sign, Scalese visits the quiet community – located where Chesapeake Bay meets the Susquehanna River – to learn about its residents, history and culture.

What he finds, however, is something much more universal in nature. Yes, Scalese’s interviews with town historians, politicians and other Havre de Grace lifers provide some neat factoids about the town. Chief among these tidbits is that Havre de Grace was very nearly made the capital of the U.S., a quirky piece of trivia that apparently everyone in the town is not only aware of, but is also chomping at the bit to tell visitors. (Scalese illustrates this particular point very cleverly.)

But when he asks interviewees the deeper questions – e.g., What is grace? Does the world need more grace? – the answers reveal much more ab out modern-day humanity than one might first expect. Acceptance and peace, love and friendship, the desire to lend a hand to those in need – these are the sentiments expressed by the town’s residents. By juxtaposing images of Havre de Grace’s tranquil waterside scenery and Everytown, USA, main street with shots of bustling Fifth Avenue crowds, exotic and faraway lands, and Earth from outer space, Scalese successfully portrays the town as a microcosm of sorts.

Residents there don’t fawn undiscerningly about their hometown: They admit that crime, drug abuse and poverty exist, just as they do in any community. But the people that Scalese interviews also express in a straightforward way a desire to see a more unified planet, and that’s a notion that’s entirely relatable.

“Greetings from Havre de Grace” is the kind of film that makes you feel better about the world. It’s a 26-minute documentary about a tiny Maryland town that, on the surface, appears to be almost painfully dull when compared to places like New York or Tokyo. But in that small community is a lot of heart, and Scalese captures it beautifully.

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