Filmmaker Ross McElwee grew up in the South and always marveled at how the folks there were affected by Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s legacy. Aiming to delve deeper into the region’s interest, McElwee revisits the path of the general’s march that took down the Confederacy. But the tone of his documentary changes when he learns his girlfriend has left him, causing him to second-guess himself with each woman he meets during the shoot.
”You should use the camera as a way to meet women….” What begins as an attempt to retrace the path taken by General Sherman and his Union soldiers in their devastating sweep through the secessionist South, becomes, in the words of McElwee’s sister, a brokenhearted filmmaker’s clumsy chivalrous quest to find love. In his most celebrated film, McElwee points up the paradox of the inquisitive documentarian: “He’s gotten scalded by life, his lover left him, and so he retreats into the mollusk shell of his camera and pokes his head out now and then. Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize”
– Museum of Modern Art
Director’s Statement wrote:
I had no firm idea as to how to begin shooting Sherman’s March. That is, I only knew that I wanted to make some sort of film about my homeland, the South, and I was interested in the degree to which the South was still haunted by the Civil War – Sherman’s campaign in particular – but I never intended for it to be an historical documentary. I thought perhaps my shooting would yield more than one film, and I assumed that racial relations in the so-called “New South” would be a major theme – perhaps the major theme of the film. But other themes became more dominant, though the notion of how blacks and whites coexist in the South is still imbedded in much of the footage. I thought I would probably narrate it with first-person voice-over, as I had done in Backyard, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about stepping in front of the camera to perform monologues. I was more comfortable behind the camera. But as I finished my first month of shooting in North Carolina and realized that this film was going to be more directly autobiographical than I had anticipated, I began filming monologues. I thought it would be best at least to get them on film. I could decide whether to use them later.
I was on the road for about four months, and shot, or was ready to shoot, nearly every day. I was open to filming anything that came along. Serendipity was paramount. The only requirement I forced on myself was that I somehow stick to the path Sherman’s army made as it swung through Georgia and the Carolinas. I shot perhaps twenty-five hours of film. I did not have a very big budget and had to marshal my film stock carefully. I sometimes wonder how much more footage I would have shot if I had been shooting video, but video was not really viable for field-shooting back in the early 1980s when I shot Sherman’s.
The first test screening of any material from Sherman’s March was comprised of scenes from my meeting and pursuit of Pat Rendleman, the aspiring actress who was in search of Burt Reynolds. I did not include my Atlanta monologue, filmed in a motel after Pat left Atlanta. After the screening, there was a sense that something was missing, so I reluctantly cut that monologue into the version I had shown, and it seemed to work. I then processed all the other monologues I had shot on the road and ended up using most of them. I got over my camera-shyness and my reluctance to put the filmmaker in front of the camera. The first assemblage of all the footage I had shot, with all of the portraits, was eight hours long! I projected it for a small group of filmmaker friends. It took me another two and a half years to finish editing Sherman’s March.
1.84GB | 2h 37mn | 640×480 | mkv