LFF 2021: The Neutral Ground – Review

Release Date – 21st January 2022, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 22 minutes, Director – CJ Hunt

Documentary looking into the feuding reactions and campaigns in response to the New Orleans City Council’s vote to remove four confederate statues in the city, with similar events happening around the world.

When it comes to great editing documentaries are very often left out of the conversation. However, it would be hard to not feel the stirring impact of CJ Hunt’s The Neutral Ground if it wasn’t for the effective editing which allows for the fine balance between the serious and the comedic in what manages to stretch beyond the feeling of a feature length Daily Show segment. Yes, there’s certainly injections of humour that naturally emerge throughout from Hunt as he naturally adapts his wit to the situation, but it contrasts well with the shock and seriousness that comes in a number of montage-like sequences that appear throughout the film. After scenes from the Charlottesville riots Hunt seems almost unable to make a joke after what he has witnessed. It reflects the shocked and terrified nature of the viewer.

The film revolves around the reactions, protests and even attacks spawned by the decision of the New Orleans City Council to remove four confederate statues in the city. We’re eased in to the situation through the comedic slant of the opening monologue. Bringing about plenty of early chuckles the film soon settles and breezes through informing the audience of the situation as it begins to look into the history of the statues and the effects that they have had on the residents of the city, and indeed America where many alike statues stand. While only 82 minutes there’s plenty of unforced information stored within Hunt’s film. Finely delivered through the general construction of the piece that manages to blend the engaging humour with the lump-in-your-throat shock.

Reaching beyond the grand-scale disputes over the controversial, long-standing monuments Hunt manages to look at the idea of black history in America. It’s stated that “we as black people have only heard a small fraction of our story” as the idea of how American history, particularly in response to the near-romanticising of who some deem as heroes of the Civil War, is taught and told. Not just in the modern day, but how it has been over the years. There’s an interesting perspective and set of discussions that are enhanced by Hunt’s clear natural passion for all subjects that are being covered within the film. None of which ever feel tangential or distracting from the main point at hand. Everything links and helps to tell the story in a concise, informative and engaging way. It’s easy to get caught up within the flow of things and have your interest in the subject matter increased over time as more is glimpsed and talked about. All led by an interested, interesting and concerned director and witness.

By the well-tuned ending The Neutral Ground leaves things slightly open. Providing space for discussion and thought afterwards. It doesn’t just ask the various interviewees and contributors questions, but also the audience. Inviting them to play an active role in what plays out in the weeks and months that are depicted. Both in America and around the world, a montage demonstrating statues being removed and toppled all across the world includes the Bristol crowd who took down the statue of Edward Colston. With ease, Hunt makes a film not just for those in New Orleans, or America. But something to create a sense of thought, understanding and progressive conversation around the world. It does it in an engaging and effective manner that manages to create humour, occasionally poking fun, and still create a stunning sense of horror and seriousness. All well-controlled in the editing process which simply helps to craft The Neutral Ground into the finely blended passionate documentary that it is.

Thanks to the fine editing and guiding figure of CJ Hunt The Neutral Ground is a passionate documentary that effectively balances its comedy and seriousness to bring the viewer in for an engaging, impactful, consistently interesting and occasionally shocking piece of work that’ll leave plenty of questions and thought stirring in your mind long after.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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