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North of ‘49 cover image

North of ‘49 2003

Not Recommended

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Richard L. Breyer & David Coryell
Director n/a
VHS, color, 55 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Crime, American Studies, Sociology, Psychology

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by LaRoi Lawton, Library & Learning Resources Department, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York

In recent years, church burnings in the South have attracted a great deal of attention. Many commentators have charged that they are a product of strained race relations throughout the South, and particularly of severe racial tensions in Southern rural areas. North of ’49 is the factual account of a church burning that took place in upstate New York, in a small community called Palermo. This viewer was sorely disappointed in the way this controversial topic was portrayed.

Richard Breyer, well known for his documentary films, does not focus on the main theme of this documentary. How do the four young arsonists who set fire to a Sikh temple and their community deal with this criminal act? Is there healing, forgiveness, and respect for another person’s religion in the wake of 9/11? Here the viewer does not see resolution per se. Yes, the four arsonists are found guilty and sentenced to jail time. The viewer is then introduced to another Christian church that has also been vandalized with no explanation other than the fact that people are not used to change. The viewer is then abruptly shown a family prepping rifles and arrows for a hunting trip. While the viewer does not see the actual killing of the deer, we are then shown the dead deer hanging from a pole and being prepped for gutting. If this scene is shown to illustrate the century old traditions of the community, what this has to do with the issue of hate crimes is lost to the viewer.

The issue of the church burnings and reasons given is never clearly discussed except by the county district attorney who states that one of the perpetrators thought the church sign said something related to Osama Bin Laden. While all four are found guilty, and sentenced to jail, there is no apparent resolution, much less remorse from any of the criminals. Finally, this program is slow moving, has uneven audio and shows more about the Palermo community and less about the Sikh and other religions, their beliefs and what is being done to prevent another attack on any religious group who look “different” from Americans.

Not Recommended