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SXSW ’13 Review: ‘The Retrieval’ is A Finely Crafted and Evocative Film

SXSW '13 Review: 'The Retrieval' is A Finely Crafted and Evocative Film

The Retrieval, which premiered at SXSW this year, almost
slipped under our noses prior to our preview of it a little over a month
ago.  It’s a film well deserving of our appreciation
and attention. Writer/director Chris
Eska (
2007’s August Evening) has crafted a very unique and cleverly scripted
tale about a young boy named Will, played impressively by newcomer Ashton
who is sent along with his uncle Marcus (Keston John)
by a gang of bounty hunters to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott),
a wanted freed man. 

It’s an unexplored part of history dealing with slavery, especially on film; a
complex and jarring dilemma of slaves who are promised a reward for capturing
runaways and fugitive black freed men; these are oppressed slaves manipulated
and many times coerced into turning against other slaves for monetary gain and

The Retrieval is set during
the Civil War, which serves as more of a backdrop. But it’s very much a character-driven narrative between the
youngster Will and the seemingly hard-hearted Nate, a man who has undergone a
traumatic separation from his wife, while fleeing up north with intentions of
returning, and the loss of a child. Nate is reluctant to travel
with the orphan Will and his uncle Marcus, as he should be. Their plan is to
con Nate into going back to his hometown by telling him that his brother is
sick and waiting to see him. There’s a carefully orchestrated plan, which will
lead the bounty hunter gang to Nate’s recapture.

The young Will carries a
guilty conscience; his uncle is hardly a father figure, and Will begins to seek
the comfort and acceptance of the aloof Nate, more so after his uncle perishes
during a Union/Confederate encounter. There are so many elements to the narrative crafted with
authenticity and humanity. There’s survival, but there’s also the need for
kinship, friendship and familial ties, even if such are the surrogate kind.
These elements ultimately forgo survival at the very end, in a sense.

There have been comparisons to Django Unchained made on
the web from articles written about the film, which I find perplexing. The Retrieval could not be more distinct
in tone, style, and narrative in general.  It’s not an epic, grand scale production, but
its quality is very competent, especially for a limited budget. The film is
admirably photographed; its set design is striking, and its score is effective,
adding to the significance of the film. But it would all be remiss if it weren’t
for the nuanced and affecting performances by rather unknowns, especially
Tishuan Scott and the young Ashton Sanders, which make the film truly
compelling to watch.

Retrieval is more
of an observant, quietly affecting tale, but a few of its scenes are
suspenseful and pack their share of action; they are not necessarily brutal,
although they are definitely believable. The film reeks of authenticity, which
makes the viewing of it all the more intriguing.

Chris Eska’s sophomore feature film is a well-researched and
relevant drama with instinctual and gripping performances, which should
definitely garner some accolades along its festival run (Tishuan Scott won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for lead actor).  This resonant, gem of a film deserves no less
than a “sleeper hit” status, along with theatrical distribution, and I’m
particularly hopeful for the latter.

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@ please-really & careycarey

Let me clarify the color of my skin.
I Am African-American! And I said your commentary is racist!
You are making unfounded, uneducated, illegitimate comments without having seen the film.

Watch it!

Get off your bums and soap box and create your movies about our culture rather than being critics who have no substance or research of a film you've not even seen!

LAUREN & RAYRAY ~ Keep US moving Upward.



SOMEBODY CALL 911!.. I think there's a few dogs piling on a rabbit (below).

I hope no one takes that coined phrase to heart, but ANOTHER1 & "PLEASE…REALLY?" are taking an ass-whoopin similar to the infamous Rodney King beating. But look up, It's A Bird… It's A Plane… It's Super-people from S&A's past. Actually it's…

Are There Any Stories About Black People That You Think Should Only Be Told By Black People? by Tambay A. Obenson on 01.18.13

Drop that in the indiewire search box (upper right corner). You'll find over 65 comments from MANY who are not racists or bigots, supporting Another1 and Please..Really's position. Look there and you'll find it fair.


this article is very accurate in it's praises. the film was absolutely beautiful in it's writing, filmmaking, and acting. the emotion behind young will's dilemma can resonate with anyone, regardless of the backdrop of the story. the fact that it took place during the civil war is (sort of) irrelevant, but with that being said, the director, along with cast and crew, took such great care to make it an authentic piece!! this is something people would know if they saw the film, and especially so if they attended the Q&A or read any information regarding the film.

on another note, im not sure if i understand another1's comment. it does sound borderline (completely, actually) racist/bigoted, although im not sure of the intent of the comment. if any director or writer, regardless of race or ethnicity, wants to tell a story of any aspect of life, they should do so accurately and truthfully. as long as that is done, what's the problem? is art dictated by our race? do we only have jurisdiction over certain subject matter because of our race? i would hope not. if so, then we, as a society, have not gotten very far. art IS freedom of expression. perhaps, this same director had no business also writing/directing previous films in spanish and japanese, both of which told remarkable stories and recieved high praises and accolades, because he is white? that doesnt sound right, does it? AND…well said, Rondrick!!


This review has me wanting to see this film. Normally I would cringe at another slave movie, but this sounds totally different from the usual fare. I will definitely be looking out for it!

Ray Ray

I agree about people needing to get over the slave themed movies. I mean it is what it is, and slavery did happen. It's not like it's a farce story that is being created out of nowhere. It's just the "topic" for hollywood at the time, just like they went through and are still going through their zombie/vampire craze over the past 5 years as well. I KNOW I will be beat to pieces over this next comment but I think us blacks can sometimes be the problem when it comes to how we view our stories. Why do we always have to say black directors/writers should tell black stories, no white person should be able to tell our stories, blah blah blah. It really should be about the STORY. If a white person can get it right, what's wrong with it? We want our movies to be equal with all other movies, but we steady segragate ourselves. Why can't we just support good art regardless of who created it? If it's good, it's good. We know we're black, but why do we have to keep saying "we want to see good black movies from black people." But can't it just be "a good MOVIE, that happened to be made/created by a black person?" There is no WET(White Entertaiment Television) however white people still run "the system" and they put out projects that are predominately created, directed, acted and marketed towards white people. But us, we have to put "Black" or "African American" in front of everything, which already alienates us. We should just create and support what we consider to be good, and support it as a movie, and not a black movie specifically. We limit ourselves by alienating us as "Black". Now don't turn this around on me & say "I'm an idiot, blacks have gone through so much, we are not treated equal, so on and so forth." We have to rewire our own minds to know we ARE equal. Put it this way, what black person is going to go see "Zero Dark Thirty" if the studio releasing it and all the advertising it is called "Caucasion Film Studios" and blatantly suggeting it's for white people? Black people would be like "aw Heeeell naw, f*ck that movie, I'm not going to see it, let's start a petition to boycott." But then we create films and put "African American" all in front of it, and we want EVERY race to go see it because it's a universal story, and studios/investors should put money behind our good and often overlooked BLACK stories like they did in the 90s. What do we want? I'm not saying sell out, but we have to stop with some of this.


Does anybody else have a problem with another white filmmaker bringing a slavery-themed movie to the screen? Aren't there enough non-slavery themed movies made by Black filmmakers out there to get picked up?


I'll be on the look out for this.


Vanessa, thanks for bringing this film to everyone's attention. I'm definitely going to seek it out.

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