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A Short Preview of An Interview With Daniel and Me In The Upcoming Documentary Film “The American Way”

A few weeks before we both moved from Alexandria, my friend Daniel T. Smith and I were interviewed for the upcoming documentary film, “The American Way.” Quoting from the movie’s official website:

The American Way, a documentary chronicling the journey of one man across the country in search of the genuine American voice, has begun shooting. Joshua Cook, who created the project, will serve as director and will be conducting the interviews. Dane Kroll will serve as cinematographer and Adam Macy will be producing the project through Temporary Productions, his production company based out of Los Angeles. In each city that they visit, the crew will interview average Americans on the state of the union, the state of political discourse and what they see and want for the future. Between destinations, the crew will both film the natural beauty of the American landscape and interview fellow travelers. The final produced film will juxtapose the words of Americans from a variety of backgrounds and iconic images of the nation with the narrative of Joshua’s quest to find the common ground and shared experience that defines America in the 21st Century.

Daniel and I spent a couple of hours with Joshua, giving him a tour of Alexandria, and then, we sat down with him for an interview at the Alexandria Riverfront Amphitheater. This is, literally, the last minute and a half of a forty-five minute interview, an interview that focused, primarily, on the ways in which the corporate consolidation of small to mid-sized media markets has affected the democratic process, the fair and accurate reporting of news, and the nature of civic engagement.

So, if we appear to be somewhat tongue-tied, blame it on the fact that we had been talking on camera nearly non-stop for 45 minutes.

Regardless, it was an honor to be able to participate, and I wish Joshua and the rest of his team the best of luck as they prepare for the festival circuit. Here’s the short preview:

And here’s a short clip of me ranting about the relationship between money and small, local elections:

What is the American Way?

About three weeks ago, I received an e-mail from UCLA Professor Joshua Cook. He is currently embarking on a rather ambitious project: Traveling across the country and filming a documentary called The American WayHe explains on the movie’s website:

The American Way, a documentary chronicling the journey of one man across the country in search of the genuine American voice, has begun shooting. Joshua Cook, who created the project, will serve as director and will be conducting the interviews. Dane Kroll will serve as cinematographer and Adam Macy will be producing the project through Temporary Productions, his production company based out of Los Angeles. In each city that they visit, the crew will interview average Americans on the state of the union, the state of political discourse and what they see and want for the future. Between destinations, the crew will both film the natural beauty of the American landscape and interview fellow travelers. The final produced film will juxtapose the words of Americans from a variety of backgrounds and iconic images of the nation with the narrative of Joshua’s quest to find the common ground and shared experience that defines America in the 21st Century.

So, as it turned out, somehow, Joshua had read my website, and since he was traveling through Louisiana, he wanted to know if I’d be interested in interviewing with him. And since I’m obviously a big believer in shameless self-promotion and enjoy hearing myself talk about the “state of political discourse,” I readily agreed.

I’ve never been in a movie before– though I was sitting next to someone at the Democratic National Convention during an interview that aired the next morning on MSNBC and, when I was around sixteen, I walked by Richard Belzer in Times Square when the cameras were rolling during an episode of Law and Order. And oh, once, when checking into a hotel in Los Angeles, I walked right into a Ron Jeremy movie. I promise: It’s not what it sounds like.

Anyway, Joshua showed up in Alexandria only three days later, and after meeting my good friend Daniel T. Smith, he decided to interview both of us. Joshua is asking the same questions of everyone he meets. Questions like: What is the American Dream? Do you think you have a voice in corporate America? How does money influence politics? Seemingly simple questions that actually require serious contemplation.

Daniel and I took them to the Alexandria Riverfront Amphitheater for a couple of reasons: First, it offers a great panoramic view of the Red River (if you’re going to interview someone in Alexandria for a documentary, there’s no better place), and second, it is almost directly behind the now-shuttered warehouses of The Town Talk.

From the beginning, I told Joshua that I wasn’t really interested in talking about myself- honestly- and much more interested in telling the story of The Town Talk and the ways in which our community newspaper has been transformed and irreparably, fundamentally altered once it became the corporate asset of Gannett Company. The shuttered printing press warehouses are only a part of the story.

So, apologies in advance to the good men and women who work at the local paper, but trust me, it was nothing personal. If anything, both Daniel and I, in our own ways, were attempting to defend and champion the necessity of a vibrant local news media as a critical component of our democracy. I hope that comes across.

Finally, to Joshua and his crew: I did my own fact-checking. I said the paper was founded in 1896; it was actually 1883. I also implied Gannett purchased it directly from the local family that had owned it for over a century. It was actually Central Newspapers that first purchased the paper; then, Gannett bought Central Newspapers. (Just want to ensure the facts are right).

It was a real honor and privilege to participate in this project, and if it does, in fact, make it into Sundance, Joshua, I only ask for one thing in return: A seat at the premiere.

Correcting the Record

Despite what was reported in both the headline and the body of today’s “City Notebook” in The Town Talk, Daniel T. Smith is not and has never been a Mayoral Assistant.

That said, without a doubt, in my opinion, Daniel, a 26-year-old Rice graduate, is the single most accomplished grant writer in the City of Alexandria during the last two and a half years. I know, first-hand, that his work has resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in increased investment in Alexandria.

I can only hope that the discussion about Daniel’s work on behalf of the City will be about the value he adds and that it is not some thinly-veiled, politically-motivated attempt at calling into question both the value and the integrity of a young man dedicated to serving his hometown.

Then again, only someone completely desperate and out of ammunition would ever attempt to do such a thing.

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