SILVER DOLLAR ROAD – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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As the year-end holidays start to become everyone’s main focus here’s a documentary feature that zeros in on the desired destination of travelers…home. But what if it’s denied you? Is it worth fighting for, even risking imprisonment? That’s the focus of this film, the value of the home, and most importantly the land. Sounds a bit similar to the epic docudrama arriving today from Martin Scorsese, eh? Now, that’s set one hundred years ago with murder stemming from a lust for oil-rich land. This doc concerns the lust for water, rather than oil. It’s a valued beachfront property. Plus it all happened in the last dozen or so years. Despite all the nefarious plans of developers, could anyone possibly displace the families on SILVER DOLLAR ROAD?

Oh, and unlike the other big film this weekend, we’re not talking about a tribe, but another minority. The family at this story’s core descended from slavery in North Carolina. A son of a slave, Mitchell Reels, bought 65 marshy wooded acres that led right to the shore of the ocean inlet. Rather than selling off the property, Reeves kept it in the family with each new generation setting up homes on that trail that ended at the shore, which was dubbed Silver Dollar Road. The modest homes were a paradise to the distant relatives who would go there for Summer vacations. But recently the development groups turned their attention to that valuable area, as neighboring towns were transformed into getaway mansions complete with docks for yachts and speedboats, all for the wealthy folks from the northern states. Finally, the Adams Creek reps made their move with a sold deed from a distant relative giving them ownership of land owned by two brothers, Licurtis Reels and Melvin Davis. The duo were charged with trespassing, found guilty In Carteret, and sent to jail rather than paying the hefty fine. The family tried to hire new legal teams with no luck and left with big legal fees. As the years pass the family begins to lose any hope of bringing the brothers home and keeping the corporations from grabbing their inherited land.

Veteran documentary filmmaker Raoul Peck has crafted a compelling emotional family saga from the ProPublica investigation by Lizzie Pressler. To illustrate the complex family tree Peck makes creative use of animation graphics for the ever-expanding branches and later renders family portraits in a warm pastel/chalk style along with the long incarceration of the brothers. In the engaging first half, we see a wondrous mix of old 8mm home movies and fading polaroids. The film’s strength is gleaned from the one-on-one interviews with the expressive family members themselves. Most memorable may be the woman we meet in the opening moments as Gertrude Reels is celebrating her 90+ birthday (she even takes a hike in the woods to lay out the family property for us). There are even a few moments of vintage 1970s video of the TV show “Soul Train” as Licurtis recalls the good times at his nightclub/dancehall “Fantasy Island”. But the funky tunes fade as the outsiders swoop in and the doc’s tone echos the frustration and outrage as justice is thwarted. Nearly a decade for trespassing in this day and age is almost brutal in its cruelty (the men wore shackles ala their slave forefathers). Almost as infuriating are the tales of greedy unethical lawyers who lined their pockets with the family’s meager savings. It’s a fascinating story that may raise your blood pressure a bit (or a lot). This is terrific film journalism and a rousing cry for legal reform and just compensation for the unbroken defiant families of SILVER DOLLAR ROAD.

3 Out of 4

SILVER DOLLAR ROAD streams exclusively on Amazon Prime Video

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.