As he did with “Two Towns of Jasper,” vet docu filmmaker Marco Williams burrows inside American towns with shameful pasts in “Banished.” Tracing the path established by investigative reporter Elliot Jaspin, Williams profiles three Southern communities — in Georgia’s Forsyth County, Missouri’s Pierce City and Arkansas’ Harrison — and grassroots efforts to expose the history of “sunset towns” which forcibly removed their entire African American populations in the early 20th century. Pic’s enormous social importance is unfortunately neutralized by merely adequate filmmaking (especially when compared to its Sundance nonfiction competition). Stops at African American and human rights-themed fests are assured, followed by pub TV broadcasts.
Jaspin’s upcoming book, “Buried in the Bitter Waters,” chronicles how towns across the country carried out local forms of racial cleansing. Williams has Jaspin introduce this dark past, and then selects three distinctive case histories, lending pic a tonal range and demonstrating that no two towns are alike in their institutional racism. Most affecting passage involves brothers Charles and James Brown’s efforts to remove their relative from an unmarked Pierce City gravesite for a proper burial elsewhere.