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Greensboro's Son
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by Chris Parry

"A tragic story let down by technical issues."
3 stars

Because this site embraces new filmmakers and encourages them to show us their unpublished work, we inevitably get placed in an unenviable position when a labor of love gets the big thumbs down. A new kid on the block needs encouragement, not a boot to the head for failing to bring in a work comparable to American Beauty, but they also need a spotlight shined on the areas where they failed and issues that need redressing. So am I about to destroy the hopes and dreams of rookie documentary-maker Andy B. Coon, who brought in this low budget documentary on a shoestring and told a story that really does need to be told? Gee, I sure hope not.

In Greensboro North Carolina on a sunny day in 1979, a group of politically active and left-leaning citizens decided to confront a planned Ku Klux Klan rally with a rally of their own. They'd brought their kids, got their permits and put up flyers that said the words, "Death to the Klan."

Then the Klan arrived, and instead of brandishing burning crosses and pointy hats, they were brandishing guns. In a crowded city street the Klan members fired en masse for 88 seconds, reloading from the trunks of their cars and fatally bringing down five people. Thank God they weren't blessed with decent aim or it would have been dozens more.

The Klan members and assorted nazi members amongst them were duly arrested, tried and, even though the entire event was captured on video camera, acquitted. How this could happen, what forces might have been at work to make it so, has never been explained. And nor have the circumstances that followed.

Kwame Cannon, a small ten-year-old boy at that protest (an African American boy we should point out) was arrested seven years later and charged with burglary. He denies he had anything to do with the break-ins, but even if he was guilty, what happened to him shouldn't happen to anyone. In the absence of his parents, his lawyer recommended he sign a plea bargain. So he did. Then he walked into court and heard the judge announce that he was being sentenced to life... twice.

How does an accused petty criminal 'plea bargain' his sentence down to life (twice)? I mean, what would he have received as a sentence otherwise? Death? For burglary?

And that's the subject of Greensboro's Child, Andy B. Coon's documentary - how do a group of white nazis escape prosecution when they're shown murdering people on camera, yet a black teenager who is tenuously accused of breaking into a house or two gets life in prison. The difference white justice and black justice clearly couldn't be any wider.

While Greensboro's Child has a top drawer subject matter as its base, the fact that it started out as a school project couldn't be more apparent. While Coon has done a superb job collecting old footage and telling a detailed story, his bottom of the barrel technical facilities let the side down where it needs to be on top of its game.

The interviews are extensive and tell a lot that needs telling, but they're also very choppy. Sound quality is dire, lighting isn't matched, camera angles are basic and uncompelling, and the background score is very much out of place. While Coon has spent five years gradually completing his work, the downside of such a long process is that it invariably dates the material. If he reshot key elements of this doco today, using better equipment and the filmmaking techniques that he's undoubtedly learned and practiced over the last five years, you'd be looking at a top notch production worthy of wider viewing.

Ultimately, Greensboro's Child is a worthy endeavor, but it's very much a first time filmmaker's film. Today, Coon is getting production work where he can find it and paying the bills by delivering pizza. If he sticks with the filmmaking gig and brings his storytelling and research skills to a new project where he can use the filmmaking skills he now has to their utmost benefit, it'll be worth watching. And so will his career.

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originally posted: 02/11/03 18:02:54
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User Comments

3/02/03 Angie it was ok i feel like somethign should have been said about how well Kwame is doing now 3 stars
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  02-Feb-2003 (NR)



Directed by
  Andy B. Coon

Written by
  Andy B. Coon

  Andy B. Coon
  Kwame Cannon
  Willena Cannon
  Kim Melvin
  Lewis Pitts
  Nelson Johnson

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