This American Journey
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As children, British actor Paul Blackthorne and Australian photographer Mister Basquali both fell in love with America. Later they each fulfilled their dream to live there, but after two wars, a near economic collapse, and uncertainty about the country's direction, these two expats began to have doubts—was America still the great place they once dreamed of? They drive across America to find out, interviewing random people about issues that affect and confront us all. From the ghetto to the gun show, the courthouse to the cattle yard, they are touched by the wisdom and insight of the people they meet. This American Journey is a cinematic postcard from the people to the people, teaching us that hearts can be healed at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places.
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I am not a film critic, but like most people, I do have an opinion, I can reflect and have a reaction to something. I therefore will not judge any technique, dialogue or wardrobe choices, but I will share how it made me feel, what it made me think and what I took away from it.
One of the reasons this film captured my interest was because it was made by two men, one British and the other Australian. While neither were raised in the U.S., each had eventually made the U.S. his home because visits to America during his youth captured his imagination.
Others’ opinions and interpretations of us here in the USA have always been of interest – opinions of actions that have, rightly so I my opinion, labeled some of us ugly Americans for example. Outsider’s eyes focused on our potential or current stereotypes can be the glaring spot light we need, as it could make us evaluate what is behind our actions. Then, in this perfect world I’m imagining, we humbly alter the behavior or respectfully offer explanation of just why it is so damn important we do that.
This American Journey is a series of unplanned, random interviews post 2008 elections from everyday Americans and their thoughts on the country, politics, the economy, energy policies, religion and how these matters currently effect their lives. The only thing planned was the route - over three thousand miles by car beginning in New York City to Southern California through the deep South, the Mid and Southwest.
Some amazing stories were shared by an eclectic range of people including: a 'practically' homeless musician, a gas station attendant, a Wall Street insider, a Marine, a cowboy Preacher, a wise women of Taos, Judges, store owners, store clerks, nurses, and a gun buyer.
Over all, I was definitely left with a feeling of hope and a belief that the typical folk of the U.S. do have it. I was also often reminded that appearances are misleading as nearly all of the participants clearly expressed their disappointments with the state of the Country, could acknowledge that we are losing our way but that they understood change requires all of US to make it happen.
Interjections and reactions from the filmmakers frame and complement the experience for viewers, giving me a sense of their involvement - they really did want to know, it wasn't just a project for them.
It's a quest of sorts to rediscover the America as Blackthorne & Basqaili knew it long ago. The results? In spite of the cold weather, eating on the road, the wonderful motel accommodations and the fact that these two were perfect strangers just a couple weeks before they ventured out across the country, they collected over eighty interviews, gleaned some life lessons, a puppy they named Bodhi and then put together a film you SHOULD SEE.
And their adventure did make me think, what answers would I have given if these two strange men and their camera approached me?
This isn't a detached, academic documentary. The filmmakers are part of the narrative. If that's not the type of documentary you're comfortable with, then you probably won't enjoy this. Which is, sadly, your loss.
Personally, I find the more informal storytelling deeply effective and affecting. It acknowledges that it would be silly to claim you can encompass the realities of an entire nation via two guys driving across the country in a van. Instead, it focuses on trying to grasp the more ephemeral heart and soul through vignettes with (mainly) chance encounters. These casual chats are interspersed with some personal comments from the filmmakers that give them a context.
Of course, no film story is successful without some good cinematography, and it walks the line between "up close and personal" and "scenic" very well. It has a suitable cinema verite vibe without compromising quality or missing the chance for some gorgeous vistas.
In the end, it effectively takes a series of snapshots about the American experience, frames them from the perspective of two "foreigners" living here, and manages to create a whole picture that's really about the human experience. It's a lofty goal but undertaken with so little pretension that it's all the more moving.