Sherman’s March (1986)

Sherman’s March (1986)

“It seems I’m filming my life in order to have a life to film.”

A documentarian (Ross McElwee) aiming to chronicle the lingering effects of General Sherman’s march on the South instead finds himself filming the various women he gets involved with.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deep South
  • Documentary
  • Looking for Mr./Ms. Right
  • Road Trip

Given the ubiquity of reality television these days — as well as the proliferation of self-made video journals airing on the Independent Film Channel and PBS — it may be difficult to appreciate the novelty of Sherman’s March, made twenty years ago. Working with actual film stock rather than video, McElwee allowed the twists and turns of his life to provide the fuel for a documentary which meanders leisurely rather than hammering in a particular point (though there is one, in the end). While Sherman’s March is over-long and sometimes self-indulgent, McElwee has a gift for capturing some truly quirky moments (and people) on film; this is the kind of gently humorous movie that grows on you if you let it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fascinating yet respectful glimpse at some truly oddball characters engaged in everyday activities
  • An aspiring actress doing exercises to avoid “cottage cheese” on her thighs
  • McElwee’s friend Charleen trying to convince him that a devout Mormon girl may very well be his best chance at marriage
  • McElwee’s unabashed self-reflection on love and loss

Must See?
Yes. McElwee’s documentary remains an unusual, groundbreaking gem of independent filmmaking.


  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Sherman’s March (1986)

  1. Although part of me wants to call this a must, another (larger) part can’t.

    I do love the film’s most unique aspect (its selling point as a potential must): a filmmaker embarks on making a documentary but can’t get up the steam to forge ahead (directly) since he’s consumed with his personal life. I find that funny – and the overall effect of the film is not that far removed from some of Woody Allen’s work in both style and tone.

    But, aside from the fact that the film (at 2 1/2 hours+) feels too long, my guess is that the average ff will find his/her patience strained. I’ve now seen it twice and this second viewing was something of a chore.

    There are certainly many wonderful small moments along the way (the large person in the Easter bunny suit; the woman holding up the lyrics for the guy playing guitar in a local bar, etc., etc.). But many of the segments seem to go on much too long, and some of the women captured don’t seem interesting enough as film subjects for that much speculation (the woman matchmaking for McElwee is ultimately annoying; the last ex-girlfriend in particular seems way too self-absorbed and something of a throw-rug for her current boyfriend).

    As well, McElwee himself – with his colorless voice – is less than engaging (he admits to leaning toward depression).

    I wouldn’t call it a waste of time – but, once seen, it’s not something most would want to return to.

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