‘The Retrieval’ reminds us to find dignity in hard times
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
Contrary to popular belief, Abraham Lincoln didn’t end slavery when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. For the next three years until the 13th Amendment passed into laws, slavery was still legal in four states and a few regions within other states.
The raging Civil War — ravaging cities and countryside alike — didn’t prevent Black people from attempting to escape their bondage nor did it prevent slave-owners and bounty hunters from trying to reclaim the people they believed they “owned.”
It is within this chaotic time and place that writer/director/editor Chris Eska sets his latest feature film, “The Retrieval.”
“The Retrieval” is the story of orphan Will (Ashton Sanders), 13, who survives in the employ of his shady uncle Marcus (Keston John) and the cruel white bounty-hunter Burrell (Bill Oberst, Jr.), earning the trust of escaped slaves and tricking them into areas where they can be caught and returned to their “masters.”
Such a mission brings Will to Nate (Tishuan Scott), a man unlike any he has ever met. Nate is strong, smart and self-sufficient. The narrative unfurls as the men journey through the forest, surviving the elements and the war. Nate brings Will under his wing, forcing Will to make a choice: turn the only person who cares for him over to the bounty hunters, or be killed himself.
Every frame of “The Retrieval” is beautifully composed, meticulously documenting the first weeks of spring in the southern pine forest in a way few, if any, filmmakers or painters ever have. In addition to bringing telling the stories of people who are often overlooked in the traditional narrative of that epoch of American history, the film pokes at themes that will most likely resonate deeply with modern audiences, especially those in Detroit.
Innocent Will is forced by an oppressive reality to choose between two tragic paths, both of which promise him a bleak and painful future. In 2014, city of Detroit pensioners are being forced to accept drastic 26 percent cuts to their income or risk having even deeper 34 percent cuts imposed on them by an unelected emergency manager.
Charter school teachers, bullied by administrators, have to choose to continue working in abusive, low-paying conditions or risk losing their jobs in an impossible job market. Homeowners who spent their last pennies keeping on the heat in their homes during a record-cold winter, now may lose their water service, and without water in the home, the state may come take their children.
In observing how Will and Nate meet their destinies, Detroiters will see that no matter how hard the circumstances, love, dignity and self-determination are always available to us.
Cinema Detroit (3420 Cass Ave., Detroit) will be showing “The Retrieval,” which has won accolades from 10 major film festivals, until April 24. Visit cinemadetroit.com, or call 313.281.8301 for showtimes and more information.