Race, sexuality, religion and class warfare intersect, sometimes violently, in Flag Wars, a captivating documentary from Zeitgeist Films.
Captured over four years, Flag Wars is the story of an influx of wealthy, gay residents into the poor, historically black neighborhoods of inner-city Columbus, Ohio.
At times inspiring, frustrating and heart-breaking, the cinema verite documentary is never less than fascinating.
Long-time victims of discrimination, the black community doesn't know what to make of their new neighbors, lead into the market by realtor Nina Masseria. She sees the potential in the area and welcomes in a virtual army of homosexual homeowners who repair and renovate the neighborhood before trying to make it their own.
On the other side of the fence are the black neighbors, whose homes have seen better days and fear the rise in property taxes and the costs levied by the city's newly energized code enforcement office.
Among them is Linda Mitchell, an outspoken hermit and inheritor of her parents' home. She fights the city, which wants her house repaired and the long-dormant cars in her yard removed, and health problems.
Chief Shango Baba Olugbala also fights code enforcement, albeit with common sense. He is the moral center of the film in many ways, never hating his enemy and often showing kindness and warmth to others.
Using radio and TV reports interspersed with the private conversations of neighbors, filmmakers Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras take viewers inside the story and show a tale of white and black people living in a world of grays.
There's laugh-out-loud humor and sickening dread and all of it masterfully put together in an important commentary on how adverse conditions bring out the best and, more often, worst in people.
Flag Wars is shown in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a 16:9 anamorphic transfer enhanced for widescreen TVs. The look isn't clean, but that's not expected in documentaries where the real key is getting the moment on tape, however it comes out.
Still, the editing and story make an OK-looking feature into something you can't stop watching.
Conversations come through cleanly and the sounds of the urban setting permeate throughout. Subtitles are available and can come in handy to make sense of some of the accents and slang.
Pickings are slim. The interview with the filmmakers promised on the box is actually a written piece on the insert. A trailer for My County My Country is included.
Flag Wars is a beautiful, funny and intense documentary confronting many of the issues that plague us every day. You will be emotionally drained and contemplative when the credits roll, which makes this one Highly Recommended film.