April 27, 2018
Directed by: John Reyer Afamasaga
Starring: Tim Huebner
Documentary Film Review by: Chris Olson
A thought-provoking and sensitive exploration of the racially notorious legacy of Southern USA that attempts to topple myth and half truths by honouring the reality of one city member’s real past.
Filmed in Memphis, The Yard refers to a space that is now a parking lot behind a church but was once a slave market, one that was lucratively owned by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Instead of being listed as so on any of the town’s public markers, they just simply say the man was a General in the Confederate army. One history professor called Tim Huebner, who is also a member of the aforementioned church, and a group of other motivated citizens decide to challenge the fiction which has made its way into the public mindset by proposing a new marker is erected, one which acknowledges the way in which Forrest made his fortunes.
Any documentary film that tackles the reputation of the Southern States is going to have to do so in a manner which is intelligently crafted and balanced if it hopes to avoid a bombastic array of mudslinging and finger pointing. Director John Reyer Afamasaga brilliantly achieves the correct levels of insight, intrigue, and examination whilst staying respectful of the area’s proud attitudes. It’s also a documentary film that has a largely positive and hopeful approach, not afraid to posit the idea that a more harmonious community could be reached if we free ourselves enough to challenge our own ideas of the past and what it means to us now.
Whilst the specific details in The Yard are local, the film has universal themes that are hugely compelling. One section explores the place of religion during the slave trade which was utterly fascinating, looking at how a slave could be baptised as a Christian but still not gain their earthly freedom. There are so many other threads which are travelled, mostly split using helpful title cards, and Afamasaga is particularly skilled in his pacing that none of the hour feels sluggish or preachy.
Huebner is a great presence on screen, passionately discussing the issues with Forrest’s legacy whilst bringing in his own emotional standpoint and baggage as a Christian and semi-Southerner. Many of the other figures who appear in the film are equally as stimulating.
I had two small grievances with The Yard, one was the music. The choices were distracting at times and often ill-suited to the tone and atmosphere. The second was the awkward use of zoom in Huebner’s office. It only happens a couple of times but when it does it felt goofy and reminiscent of The Office. These were only minor though and for the majority of the viewing I was absolutely immersed.
Viewers interested in history and the racial divide will be in their element with this film, as will audiences looking for an emotionally gripping watch. The tributes paid to the slaves are unforgettable, as is the lasting impact on one’s conscience as we consider the idea of truth in our supposed heroes and how important it is to never stop questioning the “reality” we are presented with.