“I’m Gullah,” Goff declares in the film’s prologue, thus beginning his cinematic pilgrimage to coastal South Carolina—his ancestral home. The camera sweeps over winsome rivers and sprawling marshlands as the film considers the heft of this legacy, from the way it informed Goff’s upbringing in Hartford, Connecticut and upstate New York to its broader implications in the scheme of Black mobility (economically and geographically-speaking, as much historically). Either of these would make for an ambitious project on its own, and in its attempts to wed these strands, After Sherman proves a sometimes uneven, if earnestly harrowing ballad of home and lineage.
Goff employs a myriad of elaborate techniques, some more productive than others: he interweaves old home videos with archival footage and present-day interviews, framed by classically lush shots of the bucolic South; in voiceover, he whispers the florid (frequently historical) quotes on the title cards which divide his film into its chapters; there is, on occasion, animation and dancing text. Moreover, he gestures to Black photography, art, and narrative cinema in his compositions. In one shot, the director faces the camera—although he looks past it—while behind him, his father, the Reverend Norvell Goff, speaks longingly of the old neighborhood. Here we are perhaps invited to admire the striking resemblance between the two men, fitting for a tale of inheritance.
A palpable intimacy pervades the director’s individual conversations with the surrounding community, which are some of the strongest moments in the film. When Goff errs on the side of simplicity, he more effectively conveys these central themes: for instance, lingering shots of weaving techniques, loaded with centuries of legacy; in another scene, a neighbor with a euphonious cadence brews a medicinal tea out of a root he harvested himself. An aptly reverent portrait emerges, forged from these hand-made acts of care and passed-down agrarian traditions. History is not just what lies behind us, but a daily practice—a ritual of creation. What endures accounts for nothing short of a tenuous miracle.