The University of Virginia Library has recently purchased the streaming rights to Paul Tait Roberts’ documentary film Charlottesville, about events leading to and following the deadly “Unite the Right Rally” of August 12, 2017. This collaboration between public television and the University of Virginia Center for Politics was featured in last year’s Virginia Film Festival and is now available in Virgo for viewing by the UVA community.
Roberts keeps the documentary spontaneous by not relying on a scripted narration, preferring to let the people who were involved in the events of August 2017 speak for themselves. You’ll hear from community members and students who chose to confront the racism that Director of the Center for Politics Larry Sabato calls “a national disgrace … a cancer growing on our Republic.”
The film opens with Religious Studies professor Jalane Schmidt giving historical background on the “lost cause” origins of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monuments that were reared to displace African American communities in the 1920s. The film then follows a train of recent events from Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy’s call for the Confederate statues to come down, to Mayor Michael Signer’s declaration of Charlottesville as “a capital of the resistance,” to white supremacist rallies in May and July 2017 that culminated in the torchlight invasion of the UVA Grounds by white supremacists on the night of August 11 and the violent rally next day at the Lee statue downtown.
Among the faculty, students, and community members sharing their recollections were “a Jewish woman of color,” who spent an anxious night in her room on the Lawn during the torchlight march, not knowing if she would become a target of violence, and friends of activist Heather Heyer who were close by when a rally participant drove his car into a crowd, killing her and injuring many.
Seeing the film is an excellent way to gain appreciation for how perceptions of Charlottesville have changed since those turbulent events, perceptions that those who were there still struggle with. As Larry Sabato says of the Lawn in the aftermath of the torchlight demonstration, “I couldn’t believe it had happened, but I realized that I had seen the worst thing that had unfolded on the Lawn in my nearly half century here at the University of Virginia, and I knew it would be always remembered … Fortunately, they didn’t come back then. I think the fear is present that they will.”