An older gay couple—one White and fiercely Democrat, another Black and staunch Republican…
An adult son of MAGA enthusiasts, tearing as he talks of his separation from his Mexican wife occasioned by their young son’s catastrophic illness…
A Native American man in traditional regalia singing the songs of his ancestors—and cursing the White people and his prior stint in a US prison that still rules his days…
A champion of her larger woman beauty, seeming to howl at the wind with a kindred spirit atop her van…
A young boy struggling with his mental handicap being soothed back to calm by the seemingly bottomless love of his Buddha-like mother…
Two young daughters of a hardworking rodeo performer hanging on their father’s every word and their precious moments together…
A young African-American dancer rehearsing on a Chicago rooftop, tuning out the America that she feels never invited her in…
These and more—in a land as expansive and diverse as the people profiled in the film—come together in This Land, a capture of the USA on Election Day, 2020.
THIS LAND is Slice of Life Cinematic Poetry
Reported as representing 42 states, there are six locations (Georgia, California, Maine, Texas, New Mexico and Illinois) that are featured more prominently. You too might find yourself guessing what the locations are, as the filmmakers purposely skip any subtitles to clarify geographic locations.
That this is Election Day ends up being almost a footnote to this documentary, in this reviewer’s opinion. Rather, what comes across is all the permutations of keep on keeping on that make up the days of Americans in situations as diverse as the landscapes they inhabit. Sheer poetry, the film whispers, cries and sometimes shouts a rejoinder to all political polemics on all sides---saying, Hey, we’re just human! And more, the frailty of their (and our) shared humanity comes across---
Not Black and White, not Red and Blue, just….
This reviewer’s reaction is probably pretty close to what the creative team of This Land sought, as this Picture This Post (PTP) conversation with filmmaker Matthew Palmer (MP) suggests.
(PTP) How did the idea for This Land first come about and how did it evolve over time?
(MP) In early 2016, one of the film’s producers (Brian Gagliardi) and I traveled part of the country while making a short film. In doing so, we had the opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives on divisive topics such as guns, abortion, police brutality, and more. This led us to wanting to explore what daily life looks like in this large, complicated country. By chronicling the lives of others, we thought, we may learn more about ourselves and our own biases, contradictions, and more.
We had seven primary cinematographers covering the seven primary stories in the film. I spoke with these cinematographers regularly leading up to our shoot date to make sure we were all aligned creatively.
In addition to these seven cinematographers, nearly 50 filmmakers from around the country volunteered to capture the day in their hometowns. Some even went to multiple states on the same day to capture a variety of moments.
We chose to capture these stories on Election Day because, first, it is representative of the democracy and diversity we wished to explore and, second, because, contradictorily, it is a day that creates incredible amounts of division, in part due to media bombardment. I would say that the finished film, more or less, accomplishes this and, seen in that light, is a success.
We wanted to feature as much diversity as possible. We initially tried to balance red and blue perspectives, but once our subjects were chosen, we sort of put politics aside. It was more important, at that point, to tell human stories.
We found the subjects of the film, more or less, through word-of-mouth! Since we began prepping the film several years prior to filming it, we had a lot of time to tell people about it and have them say “oh, you know who you need to talk to!” and meet people that way. On another note, we wanted to not only capture the diversity of individuals’ backgrounds and lifestyles, but also diversity of thought.
If we wanted to make a film about a country that ostensibly values diversity and democracy, we had to make sure we not only featured a diverse group of people in front of the camera, but include the voices of a diverse group of people behind the camera as well. We wanted a melting pot of filmmaker viewpoints to mirror the melting pot of America.
There are plenty of beautiful moments that didn’t make the film simply because we quickly found that in making a mosaic film like this one, flow is everything. It’s very difficult to get moments to flow from one to the other and not feel forced. If anything felt forced, we cut it.
That said, there are, of course, things I wish went differently. But that’s filmmaking! This project is particularly unique because although we planned extensively, shooting all over the country on one day meant I was missing out on all but one of the shoots, essentially. I wasn’t sure what was truly being captured until I sat down with our editor.
How did the January 6 events impact the final cut of This Land—or was it irrelevant?
We tried very hard to not let anything that happened after November 3rd, Election Day, change the way our film was edited. In my opinion, the film is unique in that it is a (somewhat) political film without a true political agenda. Subjectivity is unavoidable in filmmaking, but we did our best to be flies on the wall. We wanted to witness humanity and share it with the world. In a way, we wanted to make a day-in-the-life film that could take place on any day...this one just happened to have extra tension.
That said, there are a few moments in the film that are particularly... interesting...in a post-January 6th world.
On the evening of September 1 President Joe Biden referenced the complexity of the United States in his speech about the MAGA movement and democracy. Is showcasing such complexity an important message of your film?
Totally. Of course, there’s no place for actions or rhetoric that harm others, but, I think, those extremes are rarer than the media makes them out to be. In that speech, if I’m thinking of the right one, Biden claims that mainstreamrepublicans, in his mind, are worth reaching out to and engaging in conversation, as the MAGA movement is made up of a small minority of the party (I’m paraphrasing ha). You could argue this point, but I think it is one that is important in the context of This Land, as the film was made under the assumption that the the world, the US, thought, and so on aren’t black and white - there’s plenty of grey area.
On top of that, it was made with the belief that most humans are contradictory, complex, confusing, fearful, facing obstacles, and simply trying their best to do what they think is best. We’re products of our environments!
One of the things that makes This Land special is that it doesn't try to fix anything. It doesn't try to explain why people feel the way they do. It doesn't cure the political divide/hatred etc. (nor does it strive to) and it isn't meant to stoke division OR bridge the gap in America. What it does is remind us that we are all vulnerable, fragile human beings with our own unique stories, backgrounds, and challenges. Life is not easy for anyone. We struggle in our own ways. The film is meant to be quiet, nuanced, and human. It is not meant to be a tool for mending political wounds.
People who like it like it a lot, which is nice. Some people, on the other hand, expected, I think, something more along the lines of nightly news: yelling matches, protests, etc. As I said, this is not that film - it’s more interested in the fragility of people on each side of the aisle.
How did making THIS LAND change you and your perceptions of voting and democracy in the USA?
Despite setting out to make a film about the grey areas of our political ideas, I was surprised by how many people featured were simply...over it. They just wanted the day to be over, to move on.
This speaks to two things, I think. First, it highlights the ways in which the media and social media convince us that politics are the only thing going on and that they’re divisive and hateful etc. etc. Elections ARE important, of course, but they’re not the all- encompassing events that the news makes them out to be. Many people don’t want to hear more about it than they have to. Second, I think it implies that our daily, small, individual struggles (and getting past them) are what matter most to us.
OF COURSE, many political issues affect large groups of individuals on a devastating level (some recent SCOTUS decisions come to mind...), but, for the most part, people are most worried about, on a daily basis, trying to pay their rent, go to the vet for their dog, finish that one nagging thing for work, fix the dent in their car, get their kids to school on time, and so on.
Sam Zarrin & Matthew Palmer
Darin “Bear” Cadman
Robin Rosa Laub
Avocados & Coconuts
Affects Next Day’s Work
Production sound mixers
Opening Song Composed by
“Desert Bloom II” by Proxima Parada
Sound Designer & Mixer
Jonatas da Silva
Additional Photography by
Camera equipment provided by
On The Mark Media
Insurance provided by
Post Production Services Provided by
To learn more, including information on how to screen the film, visit the This Land website.
Images courtesy of Matthew Palmer and This Land film.
Read how filmmakers make their magic— in their own words. Read “FILMMAKERS SPOTLIGHT— Meet Filmmakers Picture This Post LOVES!” and watch this video for a story preview —
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.