Chicago International Film Festival 2016: Two Trains Runnin
By Devvon Eubanks
Our passions can lead us to strange places. Sometimes, people go out of their way and take special trips to eat that one famous hamburger from Milwaukee, or they go to that memorable theme park in Ohio to rediscover long-lost childhood thrills. In “Two Trains Runnin,” southern blues music was the vehicle that drove two different groups of young Caucasian gentlemen to find legendary musicians hidden deep in 1960s Mississippi. However, the major issue in finding these illustrious men of indelible talent was that this search took place during one of the most dynamic times of racial tension in the history of the United States. Mississippi specifically was an area where blacks were constantly being oppressed by police, and the people could not accept concepts like “racial integration” and “civil rights.” The “two trains” referenced in the documentary deal with two battles in the 1960s: the battle to re-integrate the long-lost love of blues music into the mainstream, and the battle to heal the country's racial divide. At the same time these men tried to find musicians Son House, Skip James, and others, many white college students moved to Mississippi for the summer as ambassadors to help the blacks there in going to school and intermingling with the culture, not knowing the danger some of them would face. Narrated by artist and rapper Common, the film presents a surplus of good information about the power the blues had in the development of southern musical culture and how it still affects modern music today. Concurrently, there is also a great deal of tension that director Samuel Pollard injects in the narrative through visuals and audio clips of hateful supremacists, police, citizens, and governors still seeking to return to the old ways of the country – to segregate and separate the black population. And men and students alike felt hatred and pain they had never known. Because of this pressure, “Two Trains Runnin” is timely, especially considering the current events that have happened with police brutality and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The viewer may get a bit jaded when looking at the beginning information related to the blues and how the men decided that this trip was worth taking, but overall the film keeps a good enough pace to prevent the audience from being overloaded. Combine all of this material and illustrations with amazing performances and music from blues artists across the country, and “Two Trains Runnin” gives moviegoers a lot to take away from by the end credits.