Talk about timing. Spanish Lake, the racially-charged documentary banned from St. Louis’ Wehrenberg theaters in the aftermath of the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson — known by the locals now as Ferghanistan — is now heading to VOD.
The film couldn’t have come at a worse or better time (depending on your perspective). It chronicles the white flight out of Spanish Lake, a city only a few miles from the center of where the rioting and protests are taking place. The filmmaker’s father still lives in Ferguson, which is on the verge of receiving more news about the white police officer involved in the shooting and whether or not he will be acquitted. Walmart today started to remove ammunition from its shelves in the hotbed area in light of that fact, and after yet another police officer involved shooting.
“My dad lives in Ferguson, which has me especially concerned,” said director Phillip Andrew Morton. “His neighborhood is a few blocks from the main stretch from where the rioting occurred but he is limited to where he can shop and where he is allowed to walk.” The documentary centers around unscrupulous real estate firms, who the filmmakers say conspired in scaring many white families into selling their homes. Those houses were then marked up and sold to African-American families for a profit. Those interviewed for the film speak candidly about race and some have no idea that what they are saying is racist. Says one man: “I don’t have a problem with black people, it’s just niggers.”
The film was completed in 2013; it began when Morton went back to his childhood home in Spanish Lake in 2007. “It was heartbreaking to go back and see the financial decline. I wanted to find out why,” he said. “I started researching ‘white flight’ and we (his producer Matt Jordan Smith) decided it would make a great documentary. The biggest change in terms of race was in the 1990s. It was 83% white and 23% black in 1990 and then 2000, it went to 55% black and 44% white and I lived through that period. My family moved in 1997 and it was the height of the ‘white flight’ that was occurring, and I saw the panic in the neighbors putting up their houses for sale.”
The film was supposed to start showing September 5 in a top Wehrernberg theater in St. Charles, but the head film buyer at the theater chain rethought that after shooting of the Brown and subsequent riots that started on August 13th. Some, including the producer, criticized the theater chain for doing so. The film had previously played at the Tivoli theater in St. Louis for five weeks and was the number one grosser at the theater the entire time.
The circumstances around this documentary is reminiscent of another, What Does Anne Frank Mean Today? Croatian director Jakov Sedlar began the documentary in the Gaza strip before war broke out. The timing of it, too, was prescient.
Spanish Lake hits VOD on Oct 21st, on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu & Sony, followed by Netflix and Hulu.