Sud might well be one of the most violent films in Chantal Akerman’s oeuvre, even if there’s no display of blood in it; the violence in it, rather, hung in the air – in its defiant gaze, discomfiting silences and understated expressions – like brooding and ominous ether. Akerman, inspired by her love for the writings of Faulkner and Baldwin, had travelled to the American South to film a meditative reflection on the land. However, the gruesome lynching and murder of a black working-class man called James Byrd Jr. at the hands of three white supremacists – who flogged him, chained him to their pickup truck, and dragged him for around five kilometres before dumping his dismembered body in front of a church frequented by the town’s African-American community – which had occurred just before she was supposed to begin filming, radically shifted her attention, as she instead decided to set her documentary completely in Jasper, Texas where this horrific incident had occurred, in order to present a dismayed inquiry into the historicity, manifestation, perpetuation and immediate aftermaths of a hate crime such as this. The interviews with the Jasper’s residents covered a wide-ranging discourse – solemn ruminations on centuries of oppression, violence and hatred that African-Americans have faced; description of the specificities of this very public crime; the disquieting machinations of organized right-wing hate groups; the Sheriff’s casual downplaying of the crime’s racist motivations by attributing it to economic factors instead – and these were alternated with a sobering church service in Byrd’s memory; melancholic observations of the place’s oppressive milieu through silent long-takes; and ending the work with an incredibly unsettling tracking shot of the entire stretch through which Byrd was mercilessly dragged.
Director: Chantal Akerman