THE USA IN FOCUS
In six reports, HFF students describe the state of American society
At the moment the US has to face many different political turmoils.
There is probably no better training for documentary filmmakers than being sent out into the world and having to shoot outside their familiar social environment. This is also the opinion of the Department of Television Journalism at the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF), which organizes an educational project called CLOSE UP. Each year, students travel together to other countries to create their own reports and news features. In February 2020, this year’s class went to the United States, a country that is more divided and riled up than ever. Shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began, the students, working in two-person teams or on their own in and around Washington, DC, made six reports on climate policy, racism, drug abuse, poverty, and the presidential election.
FLOODLAND gives a voice to people on the US East Coast who are losing their homes due to more frequent flooding and drastic climate change. At the same time, influential lobbyists in Washington are trying hard to conceal the causes of the floods. The question is how climate policy is supposed to work at all when the president denies the climate change that is already prevalent.
For years, the United States has been plagued by one of the worst drug crises in its history. A reckless approach to strong prescription painkillers has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people becoming opioid addicts. The opioid fentanyl is 50 times as potent as heroin, and drug abuse is now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50. A frightening side effect is newborns who have to go through withdrawal because they became addicted in the womb. I TEACH MY KIDS LOVE portrays two women who adopted several children of opiate addicts in order to free them from this cycle of dependence.
Election campaigns have a remarkable way of revealing the many paradoxes in US society. In YOU COULD BE HERE ONE DAY, African-American supporters of Donald Trump have their say. Trump of all people, who makes openly racist statements and sympathizes with right-wing extremists, was able to win over a large number of black voters in the presidential election campaign. Trump’s homosexual supporters appear no less paradoxical in CONFESSIONS OF REPUBLICANS. These include activist Scott Presler, who wears cowboy boots and carries a sign that says, provocatively, “I’m gay. Democrats don’t owe me” as he tries to get people with a conservative background to register to vote.
Marginalization and discrimination continue to be part of everyday life in the black community. The incidents of police brutality in recent months are just another culmination of everyday racism in the United States. In LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE, young African-Americans discuss their own experiences of racism and suggest how it can be overcome. One of the most remarkable comments comes from a teacher who says that black people were better off during segregation because they had their own communities with schools, doctors, lawyers, and banks, and flourished as a people in their own right. That’s something she’s not seeing at the moment in a society that’s integrated but still racist.
The primal American dream that anyone who works hard enough can make it has long since degenerated into a fairy tale, as social inequality in the United States continues to rise. The wealth of some is always the poverty of others. This is evidenced in the film AMERICAN DREAM, in which we hear from people who are struggling so hard to make a living that they cannot even afford to have dreams. A road worker puts in 60 hours a week for a minimum wage that’s barely enough to support his family. A retired photographer is forced to sell Trump merchandise on the street because he doesn’t receive a pension. Facts and figures about this dire inequality underscore the plight of the protagonists. The widespread idea that everyone is responsible for his or her own well-being is revealed to be a sad joke.
The six reports in CLOSE UP WASHINGTON are not only exercises by young directors; they are impressive reports about a desolate American society. Despite all the misery afflicting the United States, however, a ray of hope has at least appeared with Donald Trump being voted out of office.