December 13, 2014 Leave a comment
A Time For Burning is arguably my great DOCember discovery, recommended the first year of DOCember by Martin, it jumped immediately to my top-100, and eventually my top documentary. At the time, it proved powerful because I saw analogy to the gay rights movement. It covers discussions in an Omaha Lutheran Church about efforts to increase racial tolerance by using the church to promote interaction, though these efforts were faced with threats of splitting the church. The year I watched this, the ELCA (who released this film), was facing similar splits over the decision to recognize gay marriage.
A few years later, concerns about gay rights seems passe. There is still some real bigotry (Michigan just decided discrimination is A-OK, Romer v Evans will likely see that law overruled) but those fighting against gay rights are so clearly on the losing side at this point. This time, my viewing of a 1966 documentary about bridging racial divides seemed most relevant in talking about…bridging racial divides. It is kind of sickening that nearly 50 years later it is the same shit, different millennium. Now, I’m not sure how many white people are presently storming out of church services due to the mere presence of black people, but the past couple months have been illustrative of just how entrenched racial issues remain in society. The idea that white cops can kill black civilians with impunity sounds more believable in the Jim Crow south than in modern St. Louis or New York (we’ll see about Cleveland and Phoenix, etc).
This film portrays a few people who are proper racists, but the main battles are between those who feel it is their duty (their Christian duty, especially) to push society to improve and those who are supportive of the ends but not willing to risk anything to get there. I’m optimistic enough to think that the silent majority falls in this last group, which is kind of the problem, and something that ultimately they need to take some responsibility for. It is a sign of privilege to be able to comfortably sit and wait for what you see as just to come about. Using a cinema verite style, simply observing conversations, this film is powerful in revealing how untenable this conservatism (in the classical sense, not in the reactionary sense) is.