This slow-paced, contemplative, poetic documentary is perhaps the most absorbing film I’ve seen at Hot Docs so far. To say that the film is “experimental” (which it is) would almost be a disservice to this breathtaking meditation on the state of Georgia, which could probably also stand in for most places in North America.
“Deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road,” the narrator tells us as black and white maps of Georgia’s many counties unspool hypnotically on screen. “The county is the centre of the state. The town is the centre of the county. The courthouse is the centre of the town. And the weather vane is the centre of it all.”
So begins mesmerizing journey through the lush landscapes and mysterious geographies of Georgia. Eventually, the county road becomes the interstate, and as the narrator warns us, “the interstate doesn’t serve, it possesses. It has the power to render the land invisible to our attentions.” We are taken to the cold, concrete city, and the images turn steely-grey, industrial, uninviting.
The film’s loose narrative (if it can be called that at all) is told entirely through a series of images with voiceover narration which writer/director Robert Persons wrote and put together over many years. The circular, repetitive, obscure text is reminiscent at times of Guy Maddin’s style in My Winnipeg , though Persons obviously isn’t going for Maddin’s level of dramatic flair. The text and images go together organically, forming a sort of poetic, surreal essay film about history, and about the very present loss, emptiness and solitude that echoes through our culture.
In case you’re wondering, the title General Orders No. 9 refers to the letter that General Lee wrote to his troops announcing the South’s surrender. Persons was on hand for a Q&A and said “when I encountered it to me it came across as a letter of surrender with love and admiration after a great failure and screw-up, and to me that was a metaphor for the film. The film can be seen possibly as a letter of a sort of spiritual surrender.”
Haunting, beautiful and thoroughly absorbing. You really have to let this slow-paced gem wash over you without getting impatient with it, but if you get into the zone, you will be well rewarded. Check the Hot Docs schedule or the film’s website for more info and future screening dates.