SYNOPSIS 

What do Americans think of their country’s influence on the rest of the world? 

Part of a generation brought up under American hegemony, three French filmmakers head off down the highways of the West to question the discourse of assumptions promoted by a power that is today being contested.   

The Americans who are rarely seen on screen talk here about their visions of politics and of the world. Traveling from major cities to remote ranches in the Nevada desert, this documentary film develops as the speakers confide their thoughts and their questions, forcing each one in turn to confront their political views and to explore how far they are willing to go to exercise their rights as a US citizen.  
 




 

1

NOTES ON THE FILMMAKERS’ OBJECTIVES 

Firstly, there is the self-assurance of a model that stands out amongst others. Of a great power, of a path mapped out by one nation for the rest of the world to follow. The vigor of America. The dynamism of the United States of America. The opportunities that exist there; more so than anywhere else. The discourse of America.  

“Deconstruction”: The philosopher Jacques Derrida created this concept in order to question established discourse and attempt a critique of the presuppositions of language. A text seems to be saying one thing, he suggests. But at its heart, is it actually saying something completely different? And if we take our time reading and re-reading it, do we not often discover that the terms used actually reveal a meaning that is fundamentally opposed to the one that the text claims to convey? In one of his last televised interviews, in June 2004, a journalist asked Derrida to give a simple definition of this concept. Almost apologizing for the complexities of his ideas, the philosopher hesitated, then embarked on the following: “If I had to define this concept today so that everyone could understand it, I would say this: deconstruction is America. The country of absolute power and extreme instability, of hegemony and crisis…” 

The discourse of America reaches us, wherever we live in the world. We follow the path set out by America. But is it the right way? Are we propelled along it by an engine or a steamroller? Can we continue to believe in the American model? We went to ask the Americans themselves. This is, after all, the experience of their day-to-day lives. In the context of an increasingly conservative and deregulated Western world, where the citizen struggles to reclaim political agency, we decided to question this model that we have grown up with. 

For our generation, every single cultural reference has crossed over from America – cinema, television, music, fashion and even food. The country imposes itself on us. Our imaginations are full of it. But for several years now we have been questioning the economic and cultural hegemony of the United States in relation to the rest of the world. We are not embittered by the loss of France’s position as a worldwide symbol of culture – we are too young for that. We speak as thirty-somethings trying to understand the political organization of the world around us. We are surrounded by constant criticism of America. We have even contributed to it, like many Europeans. We have participated in debates on September 11th, the war in Iraq and Bush’s rise to power.

 
Before leaving, we saw America Revisited, a film by Marcel Ophuls. In the 1970s, he asked Americans how they got along with one another. Thirty years later, recent events have prompted us to question them on how they imagine they get along with the rest of the world.  

With elections prompting political discussion, so rare the rest of the time, we went to talk with some Americans, to see if an open dialogue could still stand up to all the propaganda. And to see if Americans and Europeans could still meet, talk and debate.   

On the 9th October 2004, the day of our arrival in the States, we heard about the deaths of two celebrities: the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the American actor Christopher Reeves, famous for his role as Superman. The tone of the film was decided. Deconstruction; as Derrida put it, “what comes to pass” against all expectations. As we turn up to film the premiere world power, one of its mythical heroes passes away. As does one of its finest commentators. Coincidence or a mark of destiny? What is happening to the kings of the world?

 
This road movie was filmed over the course of five weeks. It crosses four states (California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah) and stops off in nine towns (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Cedarville, Ehrenberg, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas), where we met and filmed 173 people (we kept about 50 of them in the final version). Everywhere we went, we were surprised by how keen the people we spoke with were to participate and to engage in debate with complete strangers. We were French and we were questioning their ‘model’ nation, contradicting the slogan “America, love it or leave it” that had been on their lips since childhood. We were, however, constantly reminded that “In the States, we don’t talk about politics”.  

In these five weeks on the road we discover an America that is simultaneously fed and weakened by its own propaganda of success. A country that continues to thrust forward the argument that happiness lies in property-ownership and consumerism, but where an element of mistrust is starting to emerge. Quite a few of those who spoke to us were living on the breadline, the equivalent of modern-day slaves, trapped in a system that values work over anything else. Many had two or three jobs and barely had time to look after themselves, yet were afraid to fall ill because of exorbitant medical bills.

 
Arrogance is alive and well in the Republican camp. They kept telling us that we would be German today if it wasn’t for them, or reproaching us for not getting involved in Iraq because we would have nothing to gain financially. The Democrats spoke of an Orwellian, 1984-esque era where information is manipulated, and of the feeling that they live in a society on the brink of fascism. Media and government propaganda is active in every sphere of society. The Republicans are hanging on to the American Dream, which basically consists of conserving what they already have. The Democrats are not taken in. Yes, the American Dream represents optimism and faith in the future, both powerful driving forces. But it is also the only thing that America cannot export… Besides, does it really exist, even within the borders of the US? “Opportunity”, “Freedom” and “the American Dream” resound like slogans dreamt up by the great business America. The realities hidden behind their promotional, illusory screen are becoming more and more evident. It is not only a question of economics and politics, a whole model for living is hanging in the balance.  

At a time when the political future of our own country is under debate, we decided to make these American voices heard.  


FORM AND ITINERARY  

“Drive ten thousand miles across America and you will know more about the country than all the institutes of sociology and political science put together.”

Jean Baudrillard, America, New York: Verso, 1988 (Translated by Chris Turner). 

Armed with this idea and some friends’ addresses in a couple of towns, we decided to rent a car in Los Angeles and travel at random, our itinerary shaped by the people we would meet.  
 

A DIALOGUE

The idea is to privilege the voices of the people that we spoke to in the making of this film. We do not wish to construct a portrait of Americans as seen by Europeans; we aim instead to build a real dialogue that challenges their abilities to present themselves and their perspective on the world and contemporary politics as much as it does ours. To this end, we took two video cameras, one of which we gave to them. We also decide to travel in a group of three. Three filmmakers, three personalities, and a shared passion for politics. We each bring with us our own prejudices and our hopes for opening a dialogue. Simultaneously directors and camera operators, we pass the cameras between us as discussions grow out of our individual sympathies and interests. 

ENTERING THE HEART OF THE IMAGE

“The materiality of the United States is their cinematography”, Baudrillard continues. We attempt to verify this statement by working on the mythical American figure (the cowboy, the waitress in a casino, the biker, the Mormon…) and on stereotypical filmic settings (the Laundromat, the ranch, the desert, Hollywood boulevard…). Then we contrast these American clichés with their real-life equivalents: the voices of the people that we meet.  

ITINERARY

The project is entirely filmed in the American West. The ultimate mythical location, the West seemed to be the best place to examine the American dream. Five weeks of filming, from the 9th October to the 14th November 2004, across California (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Nevada (Reno, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Cedarville, Las Vegas), Utah (Salt Lake City) and Arizona (Ehrenberg). We made the decision to question the American model on the road, moving from the great urban metropolis to the desert.  

press reviewFilms_KOW_revue_de_presse.html

press

trailerhttp://vimeo.com/13254822

DV, 1h52 - 2007

direction : Valérie Mitteaux, Anna Pitoun and Rémi Rozié

production : Zagarianka, avec le soutien du CNC

Release Date: 13th June 2007, broadcasted on TPS Star

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