Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Gund’s poetic approach enables this documentary to go where others could not, to capture the existential effects on people of colour of day to day life in a white supremacist culture."

Where most films – especially documentaries – have some kind of introduction, Catherine Gund’s Meanwhile, which is screening as part of Frameline 48, plunges us straight into the middle. A cluttered home full of evidence of life lived, a conversation whose background won’t emerge until later, people engaged in work or daily life, an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. There’s a reason for this, and that’s that Gund wants us to look afresh at the ordinary. All of this represents the movement through life that we experience as ordinary – the way we exist in the meanwhile. It’s only when we stand back that we are able to strip away the pretence of normalcy and appreciate how strange it all is. Life in the US: something that people experience very differently according to their race, a division so ingrained that there's a danger we will stop seeing it for what it is.

Gund interrogates the meaning of ‘we’. Who gets to be an American? She looks at her old school photograph. Only 59% of the US population is white, but, decades after desegregation, every kid in that picture is. Later we will be reminded of Mitch McConnell’s famous slip: “If you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

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“This is not a love letter to this country but to us inside this country,” says the author Jacqueline Woodson, narrating. An older Black woman with a breathing tube and a collection of press passes looks through albums of family photographs, recalling the stories that go with them. An artist draws a female body full of the waves of the sea; her head above the water, the shape of afro hair. A woman walks to work, listening to the news: violence and discrimination everywhere, stories about the powerful white people whose choices shape her world, thoughts she will carry with her through the day. Meanwhile...

Gund’s poetic approach enables this documentary to go where others could not, to capture the existential effects on people of colour of day to day life in a white supremacist culture. A figure on a stairlift is followed by ghostly images which blur into the final form. A series of photographs show a woman removing a plastic bag from her head. There is talk of Covid and masking, Donald Trump trying to overturn the election result, the murder of India Knight. Meanwhile, a family engages in the simple process of building a bed. Life has to go on.

There is the recognition of community forged in adversity, reference to the brief moments when one makes eye contact with a stranger whom one knows shares a fundamental experience of being. There are quotes from the likes of quotes from James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, a nod to the intellectual traditions born out of this context, yet Gund roots us firmly in the day to day, because this is ultimately where the pressure is felt. One might ask how life can carry on in such an absurd situation, and yet it does. One might ask why nobody is doing anything about it, and yet they are – but meanwhile...

Life goes on. People endure. Some are forced to endure more than others. There are personal triumphs along the way, and moments of joy, and an appreciation of the act of resistance involved in simply living. To persist in spite of injustice and in spite of absurdity. In capturing this, Gund goes beyond mere polemic and finds something more deeply human.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2024
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A poetic, non-linear journey that explores the impact of white supremacy on connection, relationships, and life.

Director: Catherine Gund

Year: 2024

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US


Frameline 2024

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