RETROSPECTIVE ROSS MCELWEE
In a song sung by McElwee’s grandmother in the film, one of the lyrics tells the story of a “piccaninny” (a black child) who, while playing outside, feels extremely hurt when he is rejected by a group of white children. His mother eventually allows him to go out and play as much as he wishes but warns him to be careful and to "stay in your own backyard." McElwee's grandmother sings this Southern song without giving too much thought to the lyrics, and Ross suddenly understands that his "Backyard," here in the American South, is a symbolic place where in his own family black and white people interact, whereas in the workplace or in public spaces, interactions are very different. Still, even in his family, the backyard is a place for white people to unwind, and for black people to work in.
In this magnificent film, shot in the summer of 1978 when he was still a film student, McElwee starts to use his own "autobiography" to tell – with a keen sense of humour - a story about much more than just himself: a story about white masculinity, about a shared traumatic social history, about racial issues, about a common and complex Southern heritage. McElwee plants the seeds for his later works in this film where we meet with these preoccupations, with his unique style, and with many recurrent characters, and we cannot wait to encounter all of them again. (by Vanina Vignal)
awards and festivals
International Film Festival Rotterdam 1994