In director Andrew Douglas' haunting travelogue of the most misunderstood and mythologized region of the United States, the South as a place is important, but the South as an idea is sacred. Musician Jim White will be the first to tell you that he is not a true Southerner. But he'll also tell you now that he's spent some time away and returned that he wants more than anything to "become a Southerner." His resulting journey from the Louisiana bayous to Virginia coalmining towns -- in a beat-up sedan with a Jesus statue sticking out of the trunk -- is a succession of eerie vignettes inhabited by junk dealers, fire-and-brimstone ministers, and hard-luck barflies. It's a journey saturated with religious symbolism, where true life merges with legend. "Stories was everything and everything was stories," says one man as The Handsome Family offers a plaintive soundtrack of new-old folk stylings. The brooding and philosophical narrative owes more to Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch than to most nonfiction filmmakers, and the fusion of macabre music and sublime cinematography immerses you in a slice of Americana that's as much myth as reality. Elsewhere, a youngster asks, "Does people still play this music?" as David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower picks at a banjo. Therein lies the beautiful paradox of Douglas' creation: The South is certainly not what it used to be, but while the folk traditions may have changed, the song of heartache and redemption that Southerners sing remains the same.
Andrew Douglas began his career as a professional photographer in the music and publishing industries. Teaming up with his brother Stuart, and working as the Douglas Brothers, they enjoyed much success in photography and went on to direct many commercials including the 1996 Adidas Olympics campaign. In 1997, he began directing on his own, having received major commissions from such commercial clients as Nike and Microsoft. More recently, Douglas has been developing documentary and feature-film projects, including Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, commissioned by BBC Arena. Another project currently in development is Underground, based on Tobias Hill's novel A World of Me, about an Italian bank robber whose greatest triumph, the biggest robbery in U.K. history, becomes his greatest disaster. Douglas is also working on Becoming Ho, a revisionist view of the Vietnam War.