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North of 49

For more information, visit or contact Ralph Singh, co-founder of Gobind Sadan by phone at 315.440.1242 or by e-mail at

Syracuse New Times, Syracuse, N.Y., Jun. 20, 2003

North of 49. (W&B Productions; 49 minutes; unrated; 2003).

This locally made documentary, which concerns the notorious Gobind Sadan U.S.A. temple arson incident in Palermo that took place in Nov. 2001, has recently been making the rounds at select venues, with another screening scheduled this week at the Everson Museum of Art. During the nation's troubled aftermath following the Sep. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, on Dec. 14 police in Oswego County charged Joshua Centrone, 18, William J. Reeves, 18, and Cassie J. Hudson, 19, with the Nov. 18 fire that damaged the Sikh temple, because the culprits thought the worshipers were Muslims who supported terrorists. (Mitchael Trumble, 18, was also charged two months later.)

The teens admitted setting the fire, explaining they were upset by the Sep. 11 attacks and believed the interfaith religious center was called 'Go bin Laden.' Hudson, who was also carrying Reeves' child at the time of the arrest, did a 90-day weekends-only sentence, while fellow vandals Reeves drew a 4- to 12-year prison stretch, Centrone received a 3- to -9-year penalty and Trumble got three months.

Within the framework of their videotaped presentation, documentarians Richard Breyer and David Coryell address the sense of how America's civil liberties have been trampled in the impulsive rush to judgment in our post-9-11 world, yet there's also a glimmer of hope in the ways that the Sikh community has immediately forgiven the incarcerated firebugs - just children, really - for their senseless hate crime. The filmmakers weave occasional news reports from the Syracuse-area T.V. stations (note that even in 2001, those annoying ticker-tape crawls at the bottom of the fast-shrinking T.V. screen haven't yet found their way onto the broadcasts) with eye-opening interviews of residents of the Mexico-Palermo area. One farmer, for instance, offhandedly repeats an oft-told rumor about how the Sikhs are 'tax-evaders' since the temple is a tax-exempt religious institution, while a Jewish family in Mexico relates the incident involving some cowardly cretins who painted a swastika on their home.

Breyer and Coryell commit one or two filmmaking sins of their own, such as their continual failure to identify most of the on-screen participants. Without some credits, it takes a while to figure out who's who, such as Cassie's concerned parents. And it would have been nice to connect one person to his sound bite about 'wigger clothes, that's when a white man wears pants down to his knees.' Yet they're adept at conveying what feels like a sense of cultural isolation in this North Country area, even though it's still perceived as being in our back yard, with key images strengthening this sad saga, notably a very pregnant Cassie in her third trimester as she lumbers to jail for her weekend punishment. North of 49, which has drawn the interest of television networks such as P.B.S., Court T.V. and H.B.O., may well benefit from a longer running time to impart its cautionary tale, but its compact style of documentation gets the job done, too.

North of 49 screens Friday, Jun. 20, 7:30 p.m., at the Hosmer Auditorium of the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St. Admission is $5. For information, call 435-2155.