The first time I watched the unfolding re-enactment of a 1946 quadruple lynching at Moore's Ford Bridge in Monroe, Georgia, my normally jaded and cynical film journalist self got set aside in favor of what I'm pretty sure was a gasp, a shudder, and a quick, impulsive looking away from the actions that were unfolding before my eyes.
Jacqueline Olive's Always in Season isn't particularly about this 1946 tragedy that has never been solved, though the lynchings that took the lives of two married couples, including one pregnant woman's unborn child, are vividly realized more than once throughout the film just as they are re-enacted faithfully on an annual basis by a group of both black and white actors and actresses who believe they are keeping alive a piece of American history that should never be forgotten.
Theoretically, Always in Season isn't about these Moore's Ford Bridge lynchings. It's also not about the 1934 lynch of one Claude Neal, a black man accused of raping a white woman whose well advertised lynching was carried out in broad daylight complete with photographs taken and sold for memorabilia - $.50.
Technically, Always in Season is about, I suppose, the story of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy, a high school student in Bladenboro, North Carolina whose body was found swinging from a swing set in the rural town where he was a prized athlete and popular student. Local police quickly called his death a suicide.
While Always in Season doesn't necessarily conclude otherwise, Olive's stellar documentary clearly points out that the investigative work here was shoddy at best and there are ample reasons to suspect foul play.
Eventually, Lennon's mother Claudia would garner enough support from the likes of Rev. William J. Barber II that a federal investigation would be granted.
But, as always seems to be the case, ultimately justice would not be served.
It's not a coincidence that justice was never served for Claude Neal nor the four victims of the Moore's Ford Bridge lynchings; indeed, Always in Season even reports that there have been 20 black men who have been found hanging in public places since Lennon Lacy's 2014 death. They've all been determined suicides.
Olive vividly brings out the underlying racism that has always fueled lynchings, a racism that was present in Lacy's case and that becomes even more dominant when we meet his 32-year-old white girlfriend, Michelle Brimhall, a woman whose relationship with Lacy was looked down upon by multiple peers including parents of Lacy's friends.
Coincidence? You must be kidding.
Always in Season is frequently a difficult film to watch; it's jarring and honest and Olive has way too much integrity to allow us the opportunity to look away. We mustn't look away and Olive doesn't make it easy for us to do so. The re-enactments of the Moore's Ford Bridge are portrayed more than once, jarringly and disturbingly each and every time.
Its entirely possible that those responsible for the Moore's Ford lynchings are still alive. If Lennon Lacy was lynched, and it's hard to reach the end of Always in Season without believing this to be true, there's no question that his killer(s) continue to walk amongst his family and friends in the small rural community that he called home.
We like to think that lynchings are a thing of the past, but lynchings are still very much in the present.
Always in Season is Jacqueline Olive's feature film directing debut and it's a remarkable one, an unflinching look at an American nightmare that keeps unfolding and seemingly does so without any justice to be served. Having had its world premiere at Sundance, Always in Season received a Special Jury Award at that fest recognizing its moral urgency. This prize was followed by prizes at RiverRun International Film Festival (Human Rights Award), Omaha Film Festival (Jury Award, Best Documentary), Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (Best Documentary), Indie Grits (Top Grit), and Dallas International Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Feature). If there's one doc feature this year that I believe should have made the cut as a finalist at Heartland, it would be Always in Season.
Danny Glover's narration for the film is sparsely yet effectively utilized, Glover's earthy tone bringing calm to a storm of emotions and experiences.
While there's an argument that Olive tries to overreach, perhaps giving Moore's Ford a little too much attention and the contemporary case of Lennon Lacy not quite enough, this is a minor quibble for one of the 2019 Heartland International Film Festival's most impactful and moving cinematic experiences.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic