Sherman's March

Ross McElwee, an artist in residence at Harvard since 1982, subscribes to the personal school of documentaries–cinema verite at its extreme form. He holds that “it's possible to film “an approximation of the truth that's also of interest to someone other than yourself.” His style is influenced by Jim McBride's self-searching movie, David Holzman's Diary (1978) in that it explores the irony, misery and elation in the quotidian.

A filmmaker-anthropologist with a rare appreciation for the eccentric detail, McElwee enjoys–and perhaps even needs–to bare his soul on screen. McElwee put his philosophy to work in Sherman's March, a film that interweaves his own hapless search for a girlfriend into that of William T. Sherman's bitter Civil War trail.

Born and bred in Charlotte, North Carolina, McElwee was fascinated with the ironies in the career of Sherman, a man still vividly remembered in the South. In his narration, McElwee says that he had initially hoped to center his film on the after-effects in Georgia and in the Carolinas of the “total warfare” waged by General Sherman during the final months of the Civil War. But during his own march from North to South, something devastating happened–his girlfriend left him.

McElwee's dry narration and deadpan expression make him a sly clown with a distinctive comic personality. Subtitled “a meditation on the possibility of romantic love in the South today,” his documentary retraces the path of Sherman's march, while meeting various oddball young women and looking up old girlfriends.

McElwee's next film, Time Indefinite, covers the post-Sherman's March years, dealing with his wedding (to another documentarian), a relative's death, and the birth of his son.