Variety Gotham Week kicked off with a screening of Raoul Peck’s latest documentary Silver Dollar Road on Monday, Oct. 2 in partnership with Amazon Studios at the Angelika Film Center. Silver Dollar Road is a documentary film directed by Raoul Peck that tells the story of the Reels family in North Carolina and their decades-long battle to reclaim their ancestral land. The film sheds light on the historical injustices faced by Black families in America regarding land ownership.
The film is told through family matriarchs Mamie Reels Ellison and her niece Kim Renee Duhon who continue fighting for their families’ land even after their brothers and uncles Melvin and Licurtis are wrongfully imprisoned. Melvin and Licurtis become two of the longest-serving inmates for civil contempt in the country spending close to eight years behind bars for refusing to give up their property. Their struggle is a reflection of the broader challenges faced by Black communities across the country. Something that was once seen as invaluable has now become a commodity and the Reels stood in the way of that greed. Despite living on the land & raising their families, they were deemed inferior to those who only saw the land as property and possession.
Raoul Peck joined Variety Gotham Week for a Q&A following the film. During the Q&A he emphasized the importance of authenticity, empathy, and the enduring impact of the film. Peck highlighted his intention not to overly stylize the documentary but rather allow the Reels family to be themselves. He stressed the need to protect both the people involved in the film and the protagonist, ensuring that their story was portrayed with integrity. His goal was to avoid depicting the family as victims and, instead, to present them as parents, uncles, and human beings. By doing so, he aimed to create a connection with the audience, so that when the dramatic moments unfolded, the empathy would still be central.
Peck touched upon the broader context of land ownership and deprivation, a theme that extends beyond the Reels family’s experience. He noted that many people have come from land somewhere and were deprived of it, often involving their parents. This phenomenon is not confined to rural areas but also manifests in cities through gentrification, where marginalized communities are pushed out.
In the context of Beaufort, North Carolina, where the film is primarily set, Peck noted that the town’s residents generally know each other, implying a sense of familiarity and community. However, beneath this surface of familiarity lies a deeper issue related to racial and economic disparities. This is where the power structure comes into play.
Peck observed that despite the close-knit nature of the community, the Black population in Beaufort was disproportionately affected by land dispossession. These disparities reflect a broader pattern in America that particularly affects Black Americans and their access to economic justice. In his own words, Peck emphasized that the film isn’t just a story but a lasting memory. He didn’t want the film to be a detached narrative but he also wanted people to care for the characters as much as he did.
Silver Dollar Road will be available to stream on Prime Video 10/20 and open for viewing 10/13 in select theaters