“C.S.A: Confederate States of America” is a truly unique and rare motion picture. What the film lacks in budget, editing, and performances it more than makes up for with an utterly brilliant and awe-inspiring concept. “C.S.A” is confrontational and completely in your face, but in a way that is so bold and smart that any intelligent criticism about what the film may be missing should be overshadowed by its undeniable originality and relevance. With its recent nationwide theatrical release, “C.S.A” is the “little picture that could” not on the strength of the movie-making, but because it needs to be seen, both as great art and as exceptional satire.
“C.S.A” supposes what America’s history would have been had the Confederacy won the Civil War. The film pretends to be the presentation of a British television documentary about the history of the “Confederate States of America” from the time of the war to the present. The documentary is being broadcast on a “C.S.A.”-controlled television channel and is frequently interrupted by commercials for products and services that reflect an America where slavery is very much alive and well. Delving into the details of the film would unnecessarily alter the experience of watching the film, so that is all the summation that will be given here.
The movie itself has some rather noticeable flaws. It was obviously shot inexpensively and the editing and pace reflect an effort to make the most of what director Kevin Wilmott was able to piece together. He did a fabulous job with what he had to work with, and it is a shame he didn’t have more resources. One wonders what this film would look like if it had a budget that matched the gigantic scope of the ideas within, and begs the question: Would/could a major studio get behind a movie like this? Although Spike Lee’s name is now attached to the film as an executive producer, “C.S.A.” was made independently and without an adequate financing to truly do it justice.
Despite the heavy subject matter, “C.S.A.” has moments of great humor interspersed throughout the picture. It begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh…” A statement which helps to temper the experience and information the viewer is about to witness. It serves valuably to remind you from the start that the movie wants to be laughed at as much as it wants you to feel the impact of its message.
Until now “C.S.A: Confederate States of America” has found audiences through limited screenings and film festivals. The nationwide release the film is getting right now may not last long. If your art theater is showing the film, it is worth the trip; if not, DVD will be the format where most people will discover this intriquing picture. This film belongs on college campuses, it belongs in theaters and it belongs in the American conscience, because long after the independent movie “C.S.A.” is over, the ideas it presents remain powerful and totally fascinating.