By Jordan Wright
Last Sunday at the Beatley Library, the Board of the Alexandria Film Festival invited filmmaker Jackson Landers to appear at a screening of his powerful new documentary “Charlottesville: Our Streets.” Using never-before-seen footage from citizen journalists, Landers and co-producer and film editor Brian Wimer constructed the 90-minute movie
in timeline fashion.
It begins with the tiki torch-wielding Neo-Nazi march on Aug. 11, 2017 at the University of Virginia and continues through the following days’ activities in Charlottesville where thousands of white nationalists converged from around the country to protest the expected removal of a statue to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Dubbed Charlottesville “Summer of Hatred,” the violent “Unite the Right” rally brought alt-right, neo-Nazi, neo-Fascist and Ku Klux Klan groups together in numbers unprecedented in a rural university town. They were armed to the teeth with knives, guns, pepper spray, chains, bats, shields and tear gas, and many shouted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil.” The police stood down.
Charlottesville native Landers, who writes for Slate, Smithsonian Magazine, The Daily Beast, Rewire.News and the Washington Post, and who conducts a Monday evening round table radio show on WPVC-FM, describes himself as an author and hunter who travels around the country hunting and eating invasive species.
He’s even written a book about his adventures entitled “Eating Aliens” and appeared on the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.” This is his first film – finished in two months to beat the entry deadline for this year’s Virginia Film Festival. He made it as a way of setting down a record of the events.
“This isn’t an activist film,” he explained. “I just wanted to show what happened.”
With no filmmaking experience of his own, Landers admitted his most difficult challenge was finding someone to put all the pieces together – he found Wimer – and conducting video interviews with counter protestors and local residents who had experienced a terrifying outpouring of anti-Semitic and racial hatred in their rural university town.
Having been pepper sprayed five times while in the thick of it, Landers witnessed the two days of events, including the fatal crash on Fourth Street and the fatal crash of a police helicopter. While he and Wimer are still tweaking the film based on audience reaction, the filmmakers claim to have verified every statement given by witnesses. Remarks
that could not be proven were edited out, though many video clips of interviews as well as remarks by Cornell West in the lead-up to the rally are included. Thirty cameras spread out across the area give the documentary both extensive coverage and an intense immediacy.
Landers also spoke about the aftermath of the bloody events in Charlottesville. He has continued to seek FOIA documents through the courts regarding police activity and strategy, but finds himself up against an army of lawyers.
Attendees were afforded a Q & A session with Landers after Sunday’s screening.
Several who had been at the rally wanted to know why it wasn’t shown that counter protesters were assaulted on side streets on their way to the rally.
Landers responded, “The genesis of the film was to show the perspective of the people of Charlottesville,” and suggested there would be other films that would approach it from different perspectives.
One attendee, who cited a CIA report calling 9/11 “a failure of imagination” by security forces, saw the hands-off approach by university and the Virginia State Police as the same problem. It’s been reported that a police captain told his force to prepare for an event similar to the annual UVA block party.
One of the more familiar faces of the white supremacist movement who was
one of the organizers of the Charlottesville rally, Richard Spencer, lives in the heart of Old Town. At Sunday’s screening, sitting quietly in the audience, was Spencer associate and National Policy Institute Director of Operations Greg Conte, aka Greg Ritter, who has been quoted as saying he plans to start his own white nationalist movement.
Stay woke, Alexandria.