This film about Bladenboro teen’s hanging death earns Sundance Film Festival award

Lennon Lacy
Lennon Lacy

“Always in Season,” a documentary set and made in North Carolina, has won a prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film, which tells the story of African-American teenager Lennon Lacy’s 2014 death in Bladenboro, was awarded a Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency at Sundance. The 42nd annual festival wrapped last weekend in Utah.

Jacqueline Olive, a board member of Wilmington’s Cucalorus Film Festival, directed “Always in Season.” It was one of 16 films entered in Sundance’s U.S. documentary competition this year.

The 90-minute film picked up a wave of press around its Sundance screenings, including an admiring review in Variety magazine and a lengthy Los Angeles Times feature.

In 2014, the 17-year-old was found dead, hanging by a belt from a swingset. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, and an 18-month federal investigation concluded it was not a homicide.

Lacy’s family and friends believe he was lynched, and “Always in Season” tells the story of their search for justice.

But Olive said in an interview that her film is much broader than this case.

Claudia Lacy, mother of the late Lennon Lacy, places flowers at his grave in a scene from Jacqueline Olive’s “Always in Season.” The film recently won a prize at Sundance Film Festival. Sundance Film Festival

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Olive began working on “Always in Season” years before Lacy’s death — around a decade ago, tracing the history of lynching and racism in America.

“When I began filming in 2010, most people wanted to look at lynching as ancient history,” Olive said in an interview. “But then when Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012, people woke up to the connection between history and the racial violence going on now — compounded by Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride.”

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Upon learning of Lacy’s death, Olive chose that as the modern-day framework for “Always in Season.”

“It’s never been a ‘whodunit’ for me,” said Olive, who was at Sundance to find a distributor for the film. “But bringing that story into the narrative of the film seemed like the right point of entry. There are so many parallels with historical photos and postcards of lynchings and today’s cellphone videos.”

Olive has applied to the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham and hopes to screen “Always in Season” at this year’s event in April.

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David Menconi has covered music and the arts for The News & Observer since 1991. He can be reached at 919-829-4759 or dmenconi@newsobserver.com.