MVFF45: Town Destroyer
October 15 only
Part of the 45th Mill Valley Film Festival at The Roxie.
Is art’s role to provoke or placate? What happens when it no longer reflects current societal views? These questions and many more were the subject of hot debate when Victor Arnautoff’s thirteen-panel mural “The Life of Washington” became an object of local controversy, then a media firestorm. On display since San Francisco’s George Washington High School opened in 1936, it offers a view of the Founding Father both celebratory and critical, referencing his involvements in slavery and Native American genocide. (The Iroquois dubbed him “Town Destroyer.”) But some present-day students, parents, and observers found those depictions racially offensive, calling for the work to be removed or destroyed. Would doing so be a “redaction of history,” “identity politics gone off the rails”—or a justified blow to a lingering American “colonized mentality” as well as ongoing “traumatization” of young minds? Longtime Bay Area documentarians Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman interview historians, artists, activists, and GWHS students to probe a fascinating microcosm of today’s culture wars. —Dennis Harvey
US 2022, 55 min, Director: Alan Snitow, Deborah Kaufman.