Known primarily as an actor, Andrew Heckler’s writing-directing debut – the 1990s period piece Burden drifts into the world as a breath of fresh air diametrically opposed to the tone of the racist-tinged Trump era. Starting during Trump’s campaign, hate crimes have been on the rise, something that has continued to escalate during his presidency. This is why Burden is so welcomed as a film in such that its tale (based on a true story) centers on a young KKK member, Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) who has a change of heart after warming to an African American preacher, Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) who against all odds befriends him.
Heckler’s secret sauce lies in his splintering of the narrative’s point-of-view whereby we see these two men start from opposite ends of the spectrum only to gravitate toward a welcomed middle ground by the tale’s conclusion. In fact, Heckler’s scope expands to the men’s families whereby the women in their lives (Andrea Riseborough’s Judy and Crystal R. Fox’s Janice Kennedy) – have their own arcs which ultimately influence their men to find a way to peacefully live together. It’s fantastic to see Burden’s xenophobic hatred dissipate as he actually gets to know Kennedy better. Here the economic anxiety of racially anxious white men that we read so much about is eased with Kennedy’s kindness and biblically driven charity – acts which give the audience a much needed sense of hope.
There was a lot to balance in Burden and for a first time writer-director Heckler without a doubt held his ground. It’s clear his background as an actor helped him as a director yield top performances. He also managed to steer clear of the TV Movie styled piece it might have become in lessor hands only to elevate the material by keeping a keen sense of simplicity to it – always focused on seeing how the concept of tolerance can affect someone so filled with hate.
The crowd at the Eccles theater gave Burden a well deserved standing ovation, because it’s the kind of content that audiences simply crave to see – in which smart, patient and tolerant interactions can curb the real life hatred we all overwhelmingly want to end. Distribution for the film remains unclear, but it played so well that it’ll hopefully be on its way to a theater near you sometime soon.
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Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a taciturn repo man rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina, 1996. Orphaned as a child, he is fiercely loyal to local Klan leader and toxic father figure Tom Griffin (a terrifying Tom Wilkinson). But Burden has a change of heart when he falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who stirs his social conscience. His violent break from the Klan sends him into the open arms of Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), an idealistic African American preacher, who offers him safety and a shot at redemption.
Based on a true story, writer/director Andrew Heckler’s debut drama is an unflinching examination of the neo-Confederate heritage of hatred and a moving character study about the hard work of undoing racism. Through Hedlund’s nuanced performance and Heckler’s sensitive exploration of class, race, and family—both genetic and adopted—this cautiously optimistic vision of social progress is at once a reflection on the stubborn roots of American racism and an urgent window into contemporary conflicts in the age of the alt-right.
Andrew Heckler was born in New York. He founded Workhouse Theater in Tribeca, where he produced, directed, and acted in over 35 productions. After a lengthy acting career, Burden is Heckler’s feature-film directorial debut.
Cast & Credits
Director: Andrew Heckler
Screenwriter: Andrew Heckler
Producers: Robbie Brenner / Jincheng / Bill Kenwright
Cinematographer: Jeremy Rouse
Production Designer: Stephanie Hamilton
Costume Designer: Anette Cseri
Editors: Julie Monroe / Saar Klein
Composer: Dickon Hinchliffe
Casting: Rich Delia
Principal Cast: Garrett Hedlund / Forest Whitaker / Andrea Riseborough / Tom Wilkinson / Usher Raymond