In six years of collaboration, this is the first time I've uploaded a video of Annabel Park and me discussing our work. The night before, we had watched a classic documentary by Ross McElwee called Sherman's March, and, as Annabel was dropping me off at the airport, we began a conceptual exchange about our new film, Story of America. Annabel came up with a new idea that I thought worth recording.
I didn't have a camera on me, but I turned on the voice recorder on my iPhone while she completed her thought. Then when we arrived at the terminal, I turned on the video function and asked her to say it again.
As you hear in the longer version of this video, Annabel was born in South Korea and immigrated to Texas with her family when she was 9 years old. She says that her experience finding her identity in America has been a creative process — learning, observing, spending a lot of time being confused, and finally realizing that identity construction in America has often been a creative process. In this video, and going forward, perhaps, in our film, Annabel connects her personal search for identity in America to a centuries-long struggle to find our shared identity as a nation.
One of the goals of our new film is to uncover the sources of division in America, and do something to counter them. In my view, much of the division can be attributed to bifurcated historical narratives (north vs. south, essentially) regarding slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement, and the election of our first African American president.
The deep divisions that exist in America along political, economic and cultural lines have led many Americans to take a highly cynical view of government and its power to serve the people. As we count down the final hours and minutes in which our leaders are unable to avert our economic plunge off the fiscal cliff, that cynicism and fatalism is reinforced.
Last November, the week of the 2012 presidential election, I launched an effort to use the transformative power of dialogue and storytelling to better understand and heal America's divide. When we began filming our project, known as Story of America, our cameras captured just how divided we were as voters even down to our experiences of voting and our views of the candidates. We filmed people from both sides of the political and economic spectrum covering everything from the role of government to the impact of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. By sharing these videos via our website and social media, we hoped to help people engage in a national dialogue which could one day bring us all closer together.
After the Newtown massacre, I must confess, my faith in dialogue was tested. Two days after the shooting, I wrote a blog post responding to some of the popular pro-gun talking points that generated 50,000 likes and more than 650 comments, including some very angry and derogatory ones. I started to wonder if most Americans just live in very different realities, where each side views the other as foreign or insane.
I'm not really sure what the "American Dream" is. For some people, maybe it's to get "rich." But I don't care about being rich. One of my dreams is to do as much good, in my way, for as many people as I can before my time on this planet is up. Another one of my dreams is to live a happy, healthy life, and have a happy, healthy family.
Growing up, I was allowed to be open about religious issues although I was raised in a Jewish household with Jewish culture. My town didn’t have many Jews but had a number of churches. I was most certainly outnumbered growing up as I was usually the only Jew I knew in school besides my sister. It had a great deal of impact on me to be the different one.