C.S.A.: Confederate States Of America (The)
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Jarrod Baker & Noor Razzak (17th September 2006).
The Film

The mockumentary genre, by and large, is mostly populated by comedies relatively light fare that uses a pseudo-documentary format to further a comedic end.
"C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America" is not that sort of mockumentary. While it does have plenty of laugh out loud moments, this biting political satire has a definite dark edge which sets it apart from the rest of the genre.
CSA is set in a world where the South won the American Civil War and where slavery never ended. Framed as a "British Broadcasting Service" documentary being played on American television for the first time, the film cleverly presents history as it might have happened making for viewing that is both hilarious and uncomfortable.
In CSA's alternative history, the Confederates win the Civil War after the French and English join on their side, enabling them to rout the Union thoroughly, burning New York and Massachusetts to the ground. Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee are the heroes of the war, while Abraham Lincoln, after attempting to escape American via the Underground Railroad, is captured, tried, and exiled to Canada, where he dies forgotten and alone.
Slaves are never emancipated and citizens of the former Union are encouraged to own slaves again through a tax regime which penalizes anyone who is not a slave owner. Women's suffrage likewise never takes hold and after Hitler's rise to power in Germany, America is a warm supporter of his policies of racial purity, never entering World War II (and suggesting that instead of a genocidal approach to the Jewish problem, Adolf Hitler should instead adopt the slavery model).
So far, so shocking but CSA is also interspersed with fake ads for television shows (like a version of "COPS" where instead of chasing criminals they chase runaway slaves) and products (like 'Niggerhair' cigarettes, and 'Black Man' toothpaste). Even more shockingly, these products are almost without exception based on actual 20th century American products.
CSA makes clever use of real archival footage to make its point, with some well-faked "old" television material and news footage added in for good measure. The actors are scarily believable as many of them espouse unpleasant views on race and slavery overall the cast (of unknowns, which is important for the success of the film) is superbly chosen.
This movie makes for uncomfortable viewing but you can't help but come out thinking that maybe it should be required viewing, as it raises some political issues that we all could so some more thinking about.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.33:1, this full screen transfer is an accurate representation of the filmmaker's vision, incorporating archival footage along with DV footage shot and graded to look like various film stocks. The footage is sharp and clean unless purposely dirtied or damaged by the filmmakers. There's nothing special about this transfer and suits the film well, which for a documentary is about all you could really ask for.

Audio

This film includes only one audio track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Since this is almost always a dialogue driven film there was no need for a 5.1 track, this stereo number is more than adequate and the dialogue and narration come off sounding clean and distortion free. Music cues are also make good use of the limited depth of the track and doesn't come across as overbearing.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Genius Products have included a pair of audio commentaries, a collection of deleted and extended scenes plus a featurette. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by writer/director Kevin Wilmott and producer Rick Cowan. This track is entitled "How we spent three years of our life" and basically covers the making of this film over the three year production process. They discuss creative decisions they made as well as the changes made to the final film after test screenings. They shed insight into the people involved in the film and provide background on the commercials and various sequences in the film as well as the amount of the research that went into the film from gathering archival footage and photos to providing context behind some of the quotes used in the film. It is clear that the filmmakers were going for a Ken Burns approach to the making of the film. Overall it's a highly detailed track that should not be missed.

A second feature-length audio commentary is also included by writer/director Kevin Wilmott as he comments on the "Reality Of The Fiction". He explains the choices he made from a historical perspective as well as the commercials and how slavery is an important subject that many people have forgotten about. He attempts to put slavery in it's proper place in it's influence of the civil war as well as goes into further detail on the footage and photos used in the film. This track makes a good historical supplement to the film but there is some overlap from the previous track, so it you might like to keep your finger on the chapter skip button on your remote as you listen to this one.

Next up is a series of 11 deleted and extended scenes which can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option, below are the scenes included:

- "Confederate States Air Force" which runs for 33 seconds. This is a TV spot for the air force.

- "Confederate States Air Force" Version 2 runs for 30 seconds and is an alternate version of the previous ad this time with a motivational narration.

- "Terrorist Threat" runs for 35 seconds and is a new broadcast of a terrorist message from a group called 'JBU'

- "You Might Be A Damned Yankee if..." runs for 42 seconds and is a commercial for a stand-up show.

- "Unkle Tom And Friends" runs for 42 seconds and is a spot for a children's TV show.

- "Be A Good One" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds, and is a behaviour modification film from the Department of Slave Labor.

- "Runaway" runs for 59 seconds and is an extended montage of the "COPS" inspired show.

- "That's My Boy!" runs for 32 seconds and is another commercial for a TV show starring a dancing slave.

- "Cartwright Institute" runs for 1 minute 42 seconds, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the research conducted by the institute on slaves.

- "Family Values" runs for 2 minutes 56 seconds, this is a Public Service Announcement on the Family Values Act of 1980 and how it's your responsibility to society to be a good slave owner.

- "The Hunt For Dishonest Abe" runs for 3 minutes 9 seconds and is an extended version of the silent film seen in the documentary.

Rounding out the extras is "C.S.A.: With The Filmmakers" a featurette that runs for 10 minutes 44 seconds and features interviews with both the writer/director Kevin Wilmott and director of photography Matt Jacobson as they answer questions relating to the film and such topics as what the C.S.A. is about?, did the south really win? as well as the commercials and how Abraham Lincoln is portrayed in the film and how is two sequences were shot. Overall there isn't anything here you wouldn't already know about if you've listened to the commentaries and is as a result a rather pointless extra.

Overall

The Film: A Video: B Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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