One of the downsides of Sundance is that it is really easy to have your film fall into a void. Part of the reason is due to the fact that Sundance staff have their own preferences and choose to push certain films over others. Lab films sometimes get pushed over non-Lab films, even when the non-lab films are better. Today in the Day Six Daily Insider there is a cover article called “The Political Becomes Personal.” In this article they talk about the very poorly made MTV-style doc Traces of the Trade and it doesn’t even mention the far more superior doc on the same subject, The Order of Myths.
Traces of the Trade is the feeble attempt of one white family to comes to grips with their Slave trading ancestors. The family members assemble to confront their past in a trip that starts at their family mansion in Rhode Island and then moves to Africa and then Cuba. The film is like a MTV Road Rules show with B-roll interrupted by confessional style voice over and direct address interviews. Confrontational scenes are set and staged where the family members are placed in front of the camera and then allowed to ‘get honest and real’ with each other. The camera has no interest in the purely visual, there are no points that are made in any way other than the direct address verbal. The filmmaking is as constipated and stymied as the characters are in regards to their Christian white guilt. This is doc filmmaking at it’s most inept and it frustrates me to no end that the visually brilliant and far more personally aggressive film The Order of Myths doesn’t even get mentioned by the Sundance Insider.
The two films are very similar in theme and subject. Both are made by white females whose family members are former slave traders. Traces of the Trade deals with the guilt and shame by simply finding the courage to recognize the past. The film is a painful journey through these family members verbal attempt at making peace with their past. The Order of Myths confronts the guilt through both the white side and the black perspective. The film actually shows both sides attempting to do something with the guilt and actually shows the whites dealing with this past. In Traces, the big climax is when the white filmmaker gives a sermon in the church about their guilt and wow, what a surprise, the church members agree with her shame and plans are made to make plans to talk about what can be done about the race issue in America. It’s as inspiring as a church sermon could ever be, and like a sermon it’s designed to make the church member feel good with out having to really do anything, except listen and then later hug each other.
The Order of Myths is a film in which we see the races dealing with each other, in the street and in each other’s homes. Margaret Brown doesn’t present a feel good message about the current state of race affairs; she paints a realistic one. But, unlike Traces, it doesn’t send you out of the theater feeling hopeful. Like a church sermon, Traces is a crock of feel good platitudes. Like life, The Order of Myths is funny, complicated, sad, and visually engaging. It works on many levels and is a true work of art.
— Mike S. Ryan