Films

Family Name


Photo Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival


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Family Name is a real-life mystery of bjried roots and well-kept secrets As a child growing up in Durham, North Carolina, Macky Aiston never questioned why all the other Aistons in his elementary school were black. Now twentyfive years later he takes us on a quest to unravel this mystery. Equipped with a 16-mm camera, Alston sets out to find the descendants of the slaves and slave owners from a plantation once owned by his family. From New York to Alabama, Aiston travels to family reunions, graveyards, churches, and the original Alston plantations, asking questions and digging up clues. He meets Charlotte Blake Alston, an African-American storyteller; Spinky Aiston, a painter who got his start in the Harlem Renaissance; and a dozen other enchanting folks who vary in age, race, and outlook but all share one thing:
the family name.

It is a moving and even astonishing accomplishment when a personal documentary can act as a window on greater social issues. What part of himself has Aiston inherited from his slave-owning ancestor? What bearing does this history have on his life today? Aiston asks questions most people haven't thought about or even wanted to. His appealing nature and honest, unjaded optimism win the subjects of the film over and us, too, for that matter. Race relations is a complicated subject. Most people feel more comfortable either leaving it in the distant past or discussing its relevance only to the last thirty years. For Aiston, it is connecting the past to the present that has a wonderful healing effect.

Family Name is an intensely intimate film that is as rich and layered as a patchwork quilt, beautifully weaving personal encounters together with documents, photographs, and archival footage.The story unfolds like fiction, tracing each bloodline, drawing you into Alston's near obsession. It is with delight that you share both discoveries and revelations with him, ultimately celebrating what is honorable and beautiful between people of different races and cultures.
- John Cooper

Directed by: Macky Alston
Written by: Macky Alston
Produced by: Nicholas Gottlieb
Original Music by: Camara Kambon


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