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Review: BURDEN
by Karen Pecota

Based on a powerful true story, writer-director Andrew Heckler, dissects the real life and times of former Ku Klux Klan member, Mike Burden. Heckler counts it a privilege to finally bring his passion project of twenty years to the big screen. The title, BURDEN, is more than just the lead characters last name. It is the gnarly tale of a person beset by life-long burdens of hatred who ultimately overcomes them because of acts of love from unexpected sources.

Heckler's narrative has many shocking twists and turns, as does Mike's real-life conflicts. The fact that Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) was indoctrinated within the South Carolina KKK to justify racial discrimination is only part of his story. The second half is how he got out.

Sundance Film Festival programmers say, "It's one of the best acted films we'll see this year." I agree! Heckler adds, "It's also a film that looks straight into the heart of our darkness." Adding, "It offers a beacon of hope and inspiration at a time we sorely need it."

Hats-off to the casting agent who signs-on principles: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Tess Harper, and Usher Raymond. The collaboration with musical geniuses Dickon Hinchliffe, Chris Tepleton, Eddie Vetter and The Shelton Family bring home the impact music has on Heckler's story. And along with the cinematography by Jeremy Rouse, the cast and crew deserve just as much credit in making the story come alive drawing out every human emotion possible.

Heckler notes that while the film has a few technical rough spots, "BURDEN feels much richer when it returns to its reality, where the gray spaces live, where a man can be redeemed, and where love is the only answer to hate."

In the South Carolina community of Lauren, excitement brews over the anticipated re-opening of it's long-closed movie theater. The small-town hopes that the opening of this new business will bring in new life for a dilapidated economy.

The townspeople are horrified on opening day when they see the shop's sign revealed: The Redneck Shop. Everyone knows what is behind the words which are reminiscent of the community's brutal history of racial division. Believing that the country has moved-on from the bigotry the townspeople, both black and white, stand in shock.

The new owner and Klan leader, Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) is not remorseful. His shop opens selling KKK paraphernalia, showing off their KKK museum and promoting an upcoming KKK Rally.

Mike Burden, a Klan member and a serious bad-boy, doesn't look like it or act like it when he meets Judy Harbeson (Andrea Riseborough). Even though he's assigned the task of repossessing her TV, the awkward, blue-eyed and soft-hearted Mike is attracted to this lady. There's something different about her and Mike is bent on exploring a relationship with her.

Griffin, who sees Mike as his protégé, worries that Judy's influence will hinder Mike's commitment to the Klan's mission. Mike's love for Judy and her young son is beginning to grow and, for the first time in his life, he is getting to know someone who is not consumed by racial hatred.  Due to Judy's influence, Mike reconnects with a close childhood friend, Clarence Brooks (Usher Raymond).  The relationship causes friction among his fellow Klan members. The more he recognizes his need for loving friendships, the more he is torn between his loyalties.

Mike's choice of who to align with will ultimately come at great cost. It's the town's Reverend, David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), a man who truly believes in the power of redemption, who demonstrates to Mike the power of sacrifice. He shows him how to fight against injustice, stay committed to doing the right thing, and trust that redemption is possible.