Review by Sean Boelman
Sam Pollard is one of the most acclaimed historical documentarians working today, so any film he makes is going to be among the year’s hottest nonfiction titles. Co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir, Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power is an interesting look at a portion of history after that which we already know.
The film tells the story of how the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) fought for Black power in Lowndes County, Alabama after the passage of civil rights legislation was largely ignored by residents and politicians in the state. It’s an important, largely unknown story in history that more people should hear about.
In the film, Gandbhir and Pollard certainly present an interesting — and valid — thesis about how the road to civil rights for people of color in America did not stop with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many history books and documentaries get so caught up in the (still important) fight to pass that act that they ignore the hard work that had to be put in after that act passed.
However, despite the fact that the film explores a topic that could be described as no less than essential, it really fails to communicate just how important this was. These people were not just another group of protestors fighting the good fight — they advocated for their community in a way that no one ever had before, and really never have since, at least in as meaningful of a way.
As is the case with many of the other documentaries co-directed by Pollard, the biggest strength of this film is certainly the use of archival footage. He and Gandbhir weave together this footage of the past in a way that is both harrowing and affecting. For a film about the historical violence experienced by Black people in America, this is integral for its success.
Still, even though Pollard and Gandbhir are able to make a very compelling film out of archive materials, it can’t escape the feeling of being designed to lecture rather than inform. As the viewer, you will feel like you are being taught to, not so much that information is being conveyed to you for
One of the more frustrating mistakes the film makes is not spending more time with the people involved in the events of the film — whether via interview or archive footage. Although we do get a few talking heads with some members of SNCC, much of the film’s runtime is made up of commentary from historians.
Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power might be one of the lesser films co-directed by Sam Pollard, but there’s still plenty here worth recommending. The story it tells is so strong and powerful that it largely speaks for itself.
Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power is now available on VOD.