Directed by Ember Lou Crowley | Reviewed by Sabarno Sinha
When a film on witchcraft arrives from the United States, I am immediately reminded of the horrible events of the Salem Witch Trials, something remains as a dark mark in the history of a country which is now known for its multiculturalism and breadth of vision. This documentary about witches consisting of interviews of practitioners of witchcraft in the USA begins with a jolt for me as I see that it is entirely in monochrome, something which I find to be apt in this context. As the film progresses, we find practitioners from the Wiccan, Bruja and Green school talk about why they have chosen witchcraft. As I understand it, it provides a kind of spiritual understanding which Christianity (the dominant religion) does not happen to give to its believers. But many like Josie believe that magic can happen anytime and anywhere. The only problem is the denial of it. Witchcraft is “what it is”. Magic has always been there but people do not notice it. It is hilarious how we associate magic with boiling cauldrons and pentagrams and dolls but that is obviously a very prejudiced, stereotypical and superstitious view of magic. Indeed, we have much to learn from these witches who speak about the diversity and normality of magic. What we have to appreciate is the fact that these groups provide a community for people who are often turned away from what we would call the “mainstream” and there is nothing wrong in this, just because these people choose a path which Christianity and other dominant religions would condemn vociferously. The film has put this point across very well: that hypocrisy is something that societies all over the world display towards its so-called “eccentric” people. Like most other arts and crafts, witchcraft or magic too is often passed down from parents to their children and in that sense, it indeed becomes an art which deserves recognition and not condemnation. Essentially, I understood that witchcraft in the States (currently) is a postcolonial phenomenon, a direct consequence of the fact that White men from Europe travelled across the waters in search of the New Land, plundered, looted, pillaged and conquered and destroyed those who had welcomed them with open arms and imposed a foreign religion which meant nothing to the people of the land. The practice of magic, or the deviation from the normal (a concept that certain political leader and his party is trying to buttress in a certain belt of the USA) is not foreign but has always been a part and parcel of American society, in all aspects. Regarding the technical aspects of the documentary, I would say that the heart of the documentary lies in a well-decided script and stitching of various parts from different interviews to make a coherent whole. While this has been done in a rather remarkable manner, it is unfortunate that the shots that were chosen have, at times, seemed quite inadequate to me. While a certain interviewee was discussing their own life and experiences, I thought that the inclusion of clips from various films was unnecessary and at times, irrelevant. This is why, it is very important to take good B-rolls or pictures and videos from the life of these people (if possible) so as to make the documentary seem richer and connected to its topic. The director has unfailingly used them to the best of her ability in the film but I was looking for a bit more. As this is one of my more favourite topics, I must quote two lines from this song which I absolutely adore and think would be apt for this context: This land is your land, this land is my land From California to the New York Island From the Redwood Forest to the Grove Street Water This land was made for you and me.
Sabarno Sinha is an undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He was active in the debating and MUN circuit in Kolkata. Sabarno frequently writes short stories, poems and screenplays for short films. A lover of world cinema, Sabarno finds pleasure in watching contemporary as well as classic films from Japan, Italy and Germany among others.