In this documentary, film critic Godfrey Cheshire turns a camera on himself and his North Carolina-based family. The crux of the film involves the decision to physically relocate the antebellum Midway Plantation, an ancestral home, from its location admit a noisy suburban sprawl to an undetermined bucolic location elsewhere in the state. The challenges of physically moving the plantation are actually the least of the problems – matters involving a plantation ghost, the mixed feelings of the Cheshire clan, and the unexpected discovery of an African American branch of the family (the descendants of a liaison between the filmmaker’s great-great-great-grandfather and a slave) add to the commotion.
“Moving Midway,” not unlike its plantation inspiration, covers a great deal of uneven territory. Issues relating to race, history, socio-economic divisions and cultural considerations are stirred together, with excessive chunks of personal observations from all parties involved in this real-life drama. The result is a decided bumpy endeavor. As a dissection of Dixie culture, the film is often compelling – the past, it appears, never truly disappeared in the Deep South.
But as a family history, it is less-than-compelling. I am sure that Cheshire’s family consists of pleasant and charming individuals, but they have not accomplished anything that warrants such close cinematic scrutiny. Even the first meeting between the long-estranged white and black relatives is somewhat underwhelming, despite the drumbeat build-up by the filmmaker.
At 98 minutes, “Moving Midway” could easily have been cut down by a half-hour to create a streamlined and far more satisfactory production.