Thursday, November 12, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: A Crime on the Bayou

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

A Crime on the Bayou
Directed by Nancy Buirski
Ticket Information

It’s truly appalling to realize how unjust so much of American history has been, and how supposed reforms and advances are often merely symbolic and do nothing to change practices or repair injustice. There are many who have tragically not survived to tell their stories, which are often used as educational tools since what they endured can teach others about what to expect from the world and how, in some cases, eventually achieve change. Hearing from those who can share their own experiences is particularly enlightening, particularly in how it has affected their perspective and attitude.

In 1966, Gary Duncan, a nineteen-year-old Black man in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, is arrested for the crime of touching a white boy’s arm. He is charged and ends up in the courtroom of Judge Leander Perez, a notorious proponent of segregation who dealt harshly with any elements he found distasteful in his community. Duncan is represented by Richard Sobol, a Jewish lawyer, who brings his own experiences with persecution to advocate as a white person for an accused Black man who stands little chance of a fair trial for a charge that does not reflect anything he actually did.

This film is a chronicle of history but also a portrait of the friendship that formed between Duncan and Sobol, who might never have met had it not been for the unfortunate societal circumstances that led to Duncan’s arrest. Sobol has a drive to help people and a recognition that he has a degree of privilege that allows him to operate within a society with no interest in hearing what its Black community has to say, even and especially if he is not guilty of the crime of which he has been accused.

This documentary functions strongly as an eye-opening look at the harsh racism of 1960s Louisiana and the way in which Duncan and Sobol faced an uphill battle to exonerate a man with no seeming ill will towards anyone, even those who have forced him to face a fate that he does not deserve. It’s affirming to see a friendship form between them and last for years, built on a common respect for each other and their shared and different experiences. A wealth of archive footage and the interviews with the two kindhearted subjects make this a very worthwhile experience, one firmly grounded in its Southern bayou setting.


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