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Capturing the Flag (2018)


Volunteer voter protection worker, Brooklyn-based entertainment lawyer and producer of Capturing the Flag, Laverne Berry. Photo credit: Nelson Walker III

New York attorney Laverne Berry, saw something at an election polling site years ago that jolted her from her comfortable contribution of driving people to the polls. When one of her charges had trouble walking, a janitor on site took it upon himself to use a pushcart and chair to get the woman to the polling booth.

“If he could do that on a day when that’s not his job,” Berry determined, “I can take some time off every election to do something.”

In Capturing the Flag, Berry and three other “voter protection volunteers” are documented during the lead-up to and through the 2016 election from their on-the-ground perspective in Fayetteville, North Carolina, polling districts. Director Anne de Mare’s fascinating and sober documentary fights an undercurrent of foregone conclusion, but provides pointed insights into our election system and the soldiers who take up the challenges of making votes count.


De Mare and her cast navigate subject matter that should be important to not simply those still distraught about the results of the 2016 election; setting aside partisanship to fairly critique our voting process should matter to every citizen.

Joining Berry on her quest is volunteer Steven Miller, an attorney and longtime friend. Miller, a white man, and Berry, a black woman, communicate with an ease certainly found in lifelong friends. En route to North Carolina we meet volunteer Claire Wright, an attorney and recent naturalized citizen. This is her first U.S. election and her first visit to North Carolina. Writer Trista Delamere Mitchell eagerly joins the group on the ground.

De Mare, along with animator Sean Donnelly, use visual aids to provide an “election day” sense of urgency to the documentary. A graphic counter along the bottom of the frame tick off months, then days, then hours before election results.

Almost immediately the team runs into an ongoing controversy at an early voting site in Fayetteville. The local NAACP has accused the state board and three county election boards of illegally removing thousands of people from voter rolls. The purge, they say, is primarily affecting voters of color.

Berry laments the inconsistent voting rules and methods from state to state. It makes protecting voter rights “daunting.”

A 2013 Supreme Court decision invalidated Shelby County v. Holder, a provision of the Voter Rights Act of 1965. That 2013 decision limited supervision by the Justice Department over states that had demonstrated relentless efforts to curtail black people from voting. Within weeks of the ruling, several states began establishing new voting restrictions—more stringent photo ID laws, limits on third-party voter registration, limited rights for those with past criminal convictions, shuttering polling locations across states. The very day of the decision, Texas began efforts to redraw boundaries for congressional and state house districts.

We watch as Berry bravely heads alone into the breach—a polling site in an all-white community littered with yard signs for Republican candidates. Yet, she reminds herself that her mission is to insure fair voting, regardless of party affiliation. She is regarded with caution at first, but her eagerness to help, earnestness and time pushes her through resistance. Miller, at different polling site, faces similar challenges from black people.

For a time, then, the film becomes a microcosm of the passions, absurdities and contradictions of the U.S. election system. A young polling judge at a precinct is initially curt and forceful with Miller, who’s assisting folks outside the polling site. The young man regards the older one as an outsider, a troublemaker. But as the day goes on, and both men doggedly undertake their responsibilities, they seem to accept each other’s roles. The strident young judge in fact, is revealed to may have overreacted due to the stresses of heading up a polling site for the first time. In the end, Miller joins him inside the now-closed precinct as polling officials search for an errant ballot.

The team’s journey is intercut with efforts from the local branch of the NAACP, including a press conference by chapter President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. Barber and others are pushing back against subtle and blatant attempts to suppress the minority vote.

Amid these early voting machinations, President Obama visits Fayetteville for a rally that for me stood as a contrast to the divisive rallies that have sadly become the norm. When an elderly man wearing a military uniform riles up the crowd with his Trump sign, Obama playfully admonishes the agitated crowd and reminds it that, 1) free speech should be respected in the U.S., 2) veterans deserve our respect, 3) elderly people should be respected as well. He famously concludes: “Don’t boo, vote!”

Meanwhile, foreign-born Wright registers disappointment, having recalled practicing law in post- Apartheid South Africa when that country’s courts looked to U.S. law precedents as a guide to building South Africa’s new constitution. “I thought that the U.S now, after the civil rights movement, was an egalitarian society,” she says. “Living here has made me realize it is not at all.” It is crushing to watch Wright trying to help an African-American woman, having been referred to a third precinct and still not able to cast a ballot, who throws up her hands and says she has to get back to work instead.

I like that de Mare allows her subjects to display their professional and ethical commitment to their tasks, while reminding us that they are also citizens, party affiliates, who care not just about voters but the outcome of the election. Since we already know the fateful outcome of the 2016 race, it’s with some dread (or joy, if Trump was your guy) that we relive the day while Berry and the team face it for the first time: the certainty that the math is in Hillary Clinton’s favor, the surprise that Donald Trump is doing better than predicted, the rising suspicion that the calculus was wrong, that working-class sentiment was misjudged; the shock and disbelief of the results.

We’ve walked with Miller as he remained level-headed and professional throughout the day. Not until the night of election results, when he explodes into anger, confusion and disappointment, do we see the partisan side he’d left off the field while attending to his duties.

De Mare, an award-winning director (The Homestretch, 2014), has taken us back to a fateful moment in U.S. history to allow us to relive it at the ground level and in personal terms. With cases before the courts (including our top court) on issues of gerrymandering, alleged attempts to manipulate the upcoming census, as well as looming critical midterm elections, de Mare’s film couldn’t be timelier.

Capturing the Flag has its world premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2018.

Delta blues, as personified by giants like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, was a rolling wail of intensely personal music. Sam Pollard’s energetic, trenchant documentary “Two Trains Runnin’ ” spotlights a time when this beating heart of African American culture underscored a curious crossroads of the civil rights movement.

It tells the story of how two separate groups of white blues nerds — one led by MIT student Phil Spiro and journalist Dick Waterman, another from the West Coast spearheaded by guitarist Jeff Fahey — ventured, unbeknownst to each other, into the same region of Mississippi at the same time, in the summer of 1964. They hoped to find, and lure back into performing, “lost” country blues legends Son House and Skip James, respectively.

Pollard threads their story, complete with animation and interviews, into the context of that simultaneous Freedom Summer that saw white college allies — trained by black activists in political action — make the dangerous trek into the heart of the segregated South to help register blacks to vote. The blues fans’ naivete — this was the same year three young activists were murdered in Mississippi — is addressed, but their deep appreciation for this seam of the American soul is given its affectionate, consciousness-raising due.

Music naturally fills the film, including appearances by Gary Clark Jr., Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams and others, and mesmerizing archival footage of House and James in their late phase of revitalized stardom. As we watch these once-marginalized artists thrillingly bring their past to bear on tense times, so does this look-and-listen complement the urgency of our newly charged civil rights moment.

Beyond the great writing and lead actress, the rocking, fast-tempo score from Brooklyn-based composer Christopher North keeps the film moving when necessary, and becomes dark and moody at other times. Hiring North was a wise move. - KR

A very special thank you to Christopher North, whose only job was to replace and improve on a two million dollar soundtrack of songs I had no rights to use, and to make us truly "original." You are a genius and as talented as anyone I've encountered. You literally had to replace Eminem and Buddy Guy and David Byrne and Matisyahu and Young Jeezy, and you frigin' did it! I owe you a big Hollywood movie some day.

Director Seth Greenleaf - Flag Football (Jun 17, 2017)

The most exciting part of “F(l)ag Football” arrives at the end, when two bitter rivals face each other. But the most insightful scene comes in the middle of this documentary, when the New York Warriors of the National Gay Flag Football League take on a straight team from Long Island.  (Hear cue "Straight Game" on playlist )

"Though gripping as a two-pronged adventure tale, the film's implicit socio-historical commentary gives an unsettling edge to the inspirational storytelling"

“It's unifying theme is recognition...This captivating movie, like the blues itself, is at once a recognition of those somber truths and a gesture of protest against them."

"In this new political era, [this film] opens an important conversation about the legacy of the segregated South."
"It's an absorbing story filled with weird coincidences, extraordinary music and heroic activism." 
"Whether reinterpreted by present-day artists Lucinda Williams, Rev. John Wilkins, Buddy Guy and others, or heard through generous archival clips, the music in Two Trains Runnin’ is remarkable."

"All in Time rocks.” - LA Times 

“Smart and clever…convincing, unpredictable.”  - The Hollywood Reporter 

“An inspirational, feel-good movie for all ages."  - New York Film Critics 

“A movie that rocks!”   - US Weekly 

“Whimsical and easygoing.” - The Village Voice 

“The most incredible twist since 'The Sixth Sense'.”  - NBC Sports Radio  

“Certiļ¬ed Fresh.” - 85% at Rotten Tomatoes 

"8.7 out of 10.”  - IMDB 

“5 Stars.” - Amazon

"Expert assembly is particularly well served by a fine soundtrack of (mostly) new multi-artist cuts that sound like buried nuggets from the protag’s formative years in New York’s fertile multimedia punk/New Wave underground."

"Lucky Days should have a healthy, cultish afterlife" with "Christopher North's music a notable asset".
JOHN ANDERSON - Variety (Aug 4, 2010)
I wanted to tell you how impressed I am with the music for the film. Andy Middleton is one of my favorite players, and it was nice to see his name in the credits. The same goes for Ethel - good choice. The string writing was really beautiful and evocative. There is a really intimate quality to the overall sound that lends itself to the relaxed unfolding of the film. I hope the film gets some play.
4 stars! He is on to something...
I really dislike trying to make comparisons to other artist but...this vocal are like John Mayer but without all the things I HATE about John Mayer's music. The sounds and instrumentations are very original and new, however with a sound that has a pleasant familiar remembrance to songs and rhythms that have touched your soul. I look forward to hearing more...
The sound design immediately jolts the production into an eerie existence, and his original song "The Feather Lake Song" is as hummable as any contemporary adult rock hit.
{De La Sur} is a charming little record. Blending a talent for British pop (he's a native Texan) and a keen ear for soul melodies, North makes fairly minor pop music that is greatly enhanced by his charming personality and bigger-than-life charisma. Where a track like "Beautiful You" has a strong enough structure to turn out quite good, songs like "Fool's Fool" benefit from the performance style more than anything else. North seems as though he knows these songs inside and out, which only stands to reason considering how many instruments he plays on the release . . . North keeps things moving and always manages to deliver a few unexpected twists. Fans of soulful Brit-pop might find themselves a new songwriter to enjoy by giving this album a chance.
CONCERT REVIEW: "Restructuring Chopin" features Rassoulova-Suk, Krovytska, Casatt String Quartet and cn on double bass - "The concluding part of the program was devoted to the Second Piano Concerto in F Minor. The orchestral part was transcribed for strings only and was played by the Cassatt Quartet with the inclusion of Mr. Renquist's double bass. The strings played their part with great precision, following the soloist with dynamic graduation. Their outstanding playing shone in the sustained shimmering tremolo, pizzicati and the "col legno" episodes."
"... he possesses a wide range of musical and movement skills ... his strong sense of timing allowed him to effectively harness the audience and structure a piece that was whimsical and fun "
NY Fringe - Propaganda (NYC) (Aug 30, 1998)
"He comes at you like a rubber bullet out of a well placed water gun."
Tom Prejean - Dallas' Club Dada (Jan 1, 1997)
... fun music played wildly and well. His songs are part jazz, part rock, part something else, ... ... the concert was highlighted by an impassioned violin solo composed by Mr. North {Renquist}. . .
Margaret Putnam - Dallas Morning News (Jan 1, 1997)

"Another challenge was the music. We had a temp track when we got the acceptance call from Slamdance at Thanksgiving, and we had just a few weeks until the premiere. Our budget unfortunately prevented us from being able to purchase any of the rights, so we were in a tight spot.

Once again though, what had appeared to be a difficulty in the end was a blessing. It was an incredible experience working with composer Christopher North who brought “sonic glue” to the film. He worked very quickly, brought a lot of fresh ideas, and wrote a score that surpassed the temp track, set the tone, and helped make the film feel cohesive.

After the premiere, we were able to take our time fine tuning the score, and that was an amazing experience"