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.