Synopsis by Mark Deming
Documentary filmmaker Mack Alston grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where he noticed at a young age that a large number of people in town shared his last name; some were white (like himself) and some were black. At the age of 30, years after relocating to New York City, Alston returned to North Carolina, armed with a 16mm camera and hoping to discover if there was, in fact, a familial link between his branch of the family and any of the African-American Alstons. Family Name is the record of the search and Alston's findings. While records of mixed race children born to slaves (and fathered by their masters) were not kept at the time, such matters remained a part of family legend and lore in the Deep South, indicated by a number of clues left behind. Alston tries to determine where the common link between the two Alston families came from, while discovering many facts about the remarkable histories of both Alston clans. While most of the African-American Alstons speak openly about the likely realities of their ancestry, they also acknowledge that it is a matter no one could speak about at the time, and are still reluctant to today. Alston, on the other hand, is gay and has been encouraged by his family not to speak about it while visiting Durham, so he admits that he understands all too well the difficult nature of family secrets. Family Name won the "Freedom of Expression" award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.
African-American, ancestry, family-history, family-secrets, genealogy, quest, race-relations, research, roots [origins], search, White (Caucasian)