America’s Heart & Soul—my
first film as a director—came about in a most unusual way. I’ve
been a collector of sorts for years. It started when I was in film school;
since I couldn’t afford a lot of film, I’d shoot time-lapse
photography—shooting only one frame every five-to-twenty seconds.
I found that I got the most gorgeous images—storm clouds, flowers
opening, and other scenes of nature. These pictures were my passion,
and after I graduated, I was able to make a living by making more and
more of them. I found that I particularly enjoyed capturing those “magic
moments” of landscapes–urban and rural, day and night. It
was very fulfilling, but I also felt I was not taking it as far as I
could; as I evolved as a person, I wanted to grow as a filmmaker as
Everyone dreams of hitting the road, traveling around the country like
Steinbeck, meeting new people and seeing parts of the country you never
knew existed. I recently had the opportunity to do just that—with
a 35mm film camera on my shoulder. What did I find? A nation of individuals,
no two alike. I found the most interesting stories in the most unlikely
places. I found that though it seems on the surface that we’re
divided in so many different ways, it turns out that we’re connected
by a deeper bond than I’d ever imagined.
My trip was my way of taking that next step as a filmmaker. I’d
started a different collection a few years ago. I collected stories.
As I would read about interesting people in the newspaper or in local
TV programs, I would file them away. I didn’t know exactly what
I wanted to do with them; all I knew is that they were real, human dramas.
One day, a revelation came to me—I would blend my passion for
pictures with my passion for these human stories by adding people to
the “magic moments” I’d been capturing on film for
It seemed like a simple idea, but for my first film, I wanted to honor
ordinary Americans who were extraordinary in their everyday lives. The
media pay tribute to celebrities and sports heroes for doing extra-ordinary
things all the time. That’s fine—they’re very good
at it. But America is more than the famous people you read about in
the newspaper or see on television. My collection might not make headlines,
but I feel that the people in them make up who we are as Americans.
I envisioned a film that would be a series of vignettes—without
beginning, middle, or end–that provided a forum for these people
to tell their stories.
What started out as a simple idea in my head turned out to be a simple
film in many ways, but one that I think gets to the core of something
more complex. I think it’s some of the most fascinating footage
I’ve ever shot. I didn’t shape this material; it shaped
So, back to my original question: what did I find as I traveled across
Well, for starters, I found that, like me, people are looking for stories
that give us inspiration. We don’t need pat answers, but we do
need to find that spiritual core. I think people can find that idea
very close to home: in ourselves, our cultural diversity.
Since completing the film, many people have told me that they thought
it is a perfect film for our times. I think that the timing is perfect
for a film that celebrates real people and real values. There’s
a lot of uncertainty in our country, a lot of divisiveness. I think
the answers are in our roots, in the values that our forefathers have
passed down to us: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s
my hope that this is a film for everybody, young and old, conservative
to liberal, because it isn’t political. It just captures people
at face value. I think everyone will find something in this film that
they can relate to, something that makes them say, ”Yep, that’s
me up there.”