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Jefferson Davis: An American President
Jefferson Davis An American President
Actor: Jefferson Davis
Director: Brian Gary
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2009     3hr 48min

Jefferson Davis is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned figure in United States history. One of the most outstanding statesmen of the United States during the first 60 years of the 19th century, he sacrificed everyt...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Jefferson Davis
Director: Brian Gary
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, Biography, History
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 10/27/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 3hr 48min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

Movie Reviews

Holding a Mirror Up to America
S. Picou | New Orleans, LA United States | 08/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"For some reason, we know more about Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee than we do about Jefferson Davis. And for some reason, we think more fondly of those military men who oversaw bloody battles that tallied more American dead than any other war. But Jefferson Davis is looked down upon as if he were some evil character whose complicity in the War Between the States was worthy of shunning. This documentary peels back the layers of indifference, of sticky, ugly and unfair assumptions about an American whose life and impact on the country rival that of any of his peers on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

We know so little about Davis, yet he was so much more than just the only President of the Confederacy. He was a West Point graduate, a former Secretary of War, a senator whose work helped shape the capitol and helped found the Smithsonian. He lived a long life. And his story has never truly been told.

Writer/Director/Producer Brian Gary spent 5 years working on this project. He captured images, thoughts, stories and facts that are woven smoothly through a documentary that is on a par with the best historical documentaries out there. In fact, he has taken the true Humpty Dumpty of American history and put Jefferson back together again into the the noble and honorable man that modern history seems to have forgotten. Jefferson's sin is that he served as President. He did not start the war. He did not clamor for it to be the fate of the country. But he served and lived his life with dignity, compassion and honor as well as any of that era.

This documentary needed to be made. And it easily could have been made with any number of biases and agendas. But Brian Gary (and his wife Wendy) produced this documentary with high standards of neutrality and objectivity. The result is a balanced and clear look at the life of a major figure in American history. And this is nothing short of a broken mirror, reassembled so that we can gaze and see something--once missing--about who we are."
Very flawed... but still worth owning
J. Darby | 12/17/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"It's rare to use a Harry Potter reference in writing about Jefferson Davis, but having watched this DVD twice and having read many books on Davis I feel like the sorting hat trying to figure which house for Harry in assessing how it should be rated. Short version: It is ridiculously biased in favor of Davis, but it's also the best DVD bio you're ever likely to see about the man.

Davis is so vilified, often unjustly, that it's easy to understand why some biographers and history buffs go to lengths to show only his admirable qualities, which this DVD does. There's no questioning that he was a brilliant man who was capable of great compassion and insight, and whether you agree with the constitutionality of secession or not it is unarguable that the United States in 1861 was a time of enormous socioeconomic turmoil with no easy answers to the problems; war would have come with or without Jefferson Davis.

However it is also the case that Davis was an exceptionally arrogant micromanager who let personal opinions cloud his judgment, was incapable of admitting or even considering that he was wrong, and an appalling classist for a man whose financial comfort came first from his brother and later from a female admirer. Davis was the anti-Lincoln in more than just the capitol he resided in: whereas Lincoln was a low born self-educated pragmatist more than capable of changing his mind when confronted with better information and continually willing to revise his opinion if he saw evidence to disprove it, Davis was a nouveau riche well-educated dogmatist who throughout his life chose to see what he believed rather than to believe what he saw, and this trait damned him to history.

Warts and all however- and it was not all warts- Davis was not an evil man in spite of his reputation. It was in fact his very humanity that makes him both more sympathetic and more damnable. He was also one of the most complex and complicated men in U.S. history. His views on race for example:

DEMONSTRABLY TRUE: Davis was a zealous white supremacist even by the standards of antebellum America and the owner of more than 200 slaves during his lifetime.

ALSO DEMONSTRABLY TRUE: Davis broke the laws of Mississippi in teaching many of his slaves to read, did not use the lash on his slaves, never sold apart a family, abhorred sexual abuse of black women by white men, and adopted a black orphan into his home who was raised with his own children.

DEMONSTRABLY TRUE: Davis legislated that all black men found in the uniform of the Federal troops should be executed on the spot along with their white officers and frequently spoke of the mentally inferior and childlike nature of the "race of Ham".

ALSO TRUE: The men Davis trusted most throughout his life were invariably black, from James Pemberton- a slave to whom he entrusted the management of his plantation, to members of the Montgomery family, to Robert Brown (his black coachman and valet to whom he entrusted his wife and children during his imprisonment). He was thought so highly of by many of his former slaves that they sent him gifts of fruit and even money and corresponded with him until the day he died- many came from far away and at their own expense to attend his funeral- and some who lived to be very old praised him in 70 years after emancipation in the Federal Writers project.
Unfortunately today to say such statements as 'some slavemasters were very humane", or "some slaves actually liked and respected their masters' or even something you would think as self evident as 'slavery must be viewed in the construct of its time- a financial necessity that had existed in the U.S. since before the Mayflower and in every original colony and whose abolition would have instantly collapsed the richest economy in the United States (which in fact it did) rather than through 21st century lenses'- is to get you a branded a Lost Cause apologist or even racist by many well meaning but often ignorant present day armchair historians and sociologists who will not grant that it was a remotely complex issue or that there was no magical veil at the Mason Dixon line where people were racist on one side and liberal on the other. (As a point of fact many northern generals were slaveholders and many were more white supremacist and or racist in their rhetoric than Jefferson Davis.) Consequently some southerners in their frustration at historical simplification become in their refusal to apologize for the deeds of their ancestors apologists on the matter of the southern past.

This is the case of this 3 disc DVD series. It is not objective in its views, it is apologistic in nature, and it is selective in its content.

Perhaps its greates flaw and bias is demonstrated by the over reliance on Thomas Dilorenzo, an extremely controversial economics professor and author of anti-Lincoln screeds but neither a biographer of Davis nor historian. He should have been edited or omitted altogether- he made factual errors and politically belabored the valid points he made (e.g. the Constitutional gray area of secession) and his screen time would have been far better spent with William Cooper or Frank Vandiver, both of them scholars on the Confederacy and Davis. Another flaw is that the low budget shows- there are no subtitles and at times they would be much appreciated (particularly when accents or background noises interfere with clarity). The worst sin is the more than occasional romanticizing or absolution of Davis: there is little mentioned of his blatant white supremacy in speeches before and during and after the war and in his books, or of the arrogance and classism that led him to keep incompetents like Bragg and Leonidas Polk in power over far more capable leaders; unbelievably his executive order regarding the executions of black troops is not even mentioned! On the lighter-gossippy side, his inappropriately passionate relationship with Virginia Clay(whether it was an affair or not is unknown, though certainly his long suffering wife Varina was bothered by it) is not mentioned and his relationship with Sarah Dorsey, whose friendship (again, whether it was an affair or not is not known for certain) almost cost him his marriage and whose generosity and affection was the reason he had any comfort at all in his final years, is only casually mentioned in passing lest his halo be tarnished.

So how then is this DVD series worth watching? Thank you for asking- I'll tell you:

Like its subject this DVD set is hard to dismiss as altogether bad for there is much good mixed in as well. For starters the graphics are beautiful: the video of modern day Mississippi, the selection of photographs (many of them rare and never before seen on camera), the visits to places associated with Davis's life- are all worth watching. Most of the interviews that are not with DiLorenzo are excellent, particularly with biographer/historian Cooper and the late Frank Vandiver and the (still living) William Cooper but also Lynda Crist (editor of the Davis papers at Rice U.) and Edward Eckert (who so looks like he'd have been right at home at Briarfield or Beauvoir). Davis's early life is treated with more depth than you will ever see in a documentary: his contributions to the building of the Capitol Dome and the Smithsonian Institution are given considerable coverage, and the fact that most objective historians agree he was brilliant as Secretary of War; today aside from the Civil War he's mainly remembered for bringing over camels (an idea that, incidentally, worked) but in fact had, ironically, he not so revolutionized the U.S. Army in his 4 years as Secretary their victory in 1865 would probably not have come to pass. This pays far closer attention also than any other documentary to the political life of the Confederacy (i.e. that huge part of the Civil War that wasn't on the battlfield) including his attempts to finance the army through foreign banks and his constant resistance through more conservative and benighted Confederate politicians.

So all in all I will say this: this is an excellent DVD series for graphics and some of its content is great, though it is hamstringed by the producers hero worship of Davis. Even so, I would wholeheartedly recommend its purchase by any Civil War buff or library because it contains enough that is unique to offset its sins of omission, besides which the singing of his praises offsets the offhanded "he was a slaveowning villain" dismissal he receives from detractors who wish to simplify history. It should certainly not be your only source of information on the man, but until a more objective documentary comes along this will be the definitive video source on one of the most enigmatic, multisided, much sinned against and much sinning figures in United States history."
A truth revealed
Beverly G. Wasson | Pine Bluff, AR USA | 10/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As a Chinese American, first generation, I understand what it is like to have your history distorted and therefore I am glad to see a history that restores the dignity of Jefferson Davis and the truth of his beliefs. Percival Beacroft, thank you. This work is a gift to American History."
Jefferson Davis DVD is one of the "best" History DVD's
J. Angeline | 08/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

The Jefferson Davis Documentary gives a clear insight as to the genius behind the Confederacy. Executive Producer, Percival Beacroft, pulled together an award winning team to produce this great film on American history. Davis comes alive in his part of the development of this young country and the struggle for the South's interpretation of the Constitution. It is loaded with scholarly information that is a "must" for student's of history.