Not A Review: A Conversation w America

by Jefferson Ellison. 10.25.20

I’ll admit to not watching a lot of documentaries. I find the medium… somewhat disinteresting. Is that ignorant to say? Either way, I’ve never been a fan. Until I met Jim Kroft - Jamie to his friends. Jim is a filmmaker and musician living in Berlin. He considers his work an exploration of the world, its people, and what unites us all. Somewhat fresh to the film world, his debut documentary “The March of Hope” screened at over 70 film festivals worldwide, winning 30 awards. As a musician, Jim has released 4 albums including one on EMI, and has a worldwide publishing deal with BMG Rights Management.

All that to say, he is an industry man with passion who I was lucky to meet by chance.

It was an early Fall day in 2016 on the Lower East Side. I was at dinner with a few friends at one of my favorite Italian restaurants. It was one of those Thursday night dinners where there are 6 people who all love to talk and really love to drink. There we were, sharing stories and bonding over the intricacies of dating fuck boys, when a man stops along the side and asks, “Sorry. But did you just say "this pussy is platinum?" Of course, we had! It was and still is, so we chuckled and said “Uh… yes. Sorry for the language." He looked at us with his bags and his camera dangling from each arm and with a smile said, “No worries. But could I join you?”

We all looked at each other with skepticism and he continued “I’m making a documentary about the upcoming election and just landed in America and I’d hate to miss whatever conversation this is." Being the attention whores that we are, we obliged, offered him a seat, and ordered another round. He joined us for conversation and then we invited him back to my apartment in West Harlem and an impulsive, yet proper, kiki. The girls got together and came to the uptown, we picked up a few bottles of this and that, whipped together slight hors d'ourves, and turned on the Marvin Gaye, which quickly turned to Diplo, gossip and twerking on the wall. Over the next two days, Jamie slept on my couch, he spoke with me and my friends separately and together, we shared a meal or two and then he was on his way. To explore the rest of the city and then the country. We each gave him recommendations for different cities, what to do, where to stay but truly the journey was his, and off he went.

Over the next four years, we’ve kept in touch. Emails, WhatsApp, even FaceTiming a few times. And I’ve been pushing him… "When are we going to see this fucking film?" and alas, the time has finally come.

The full documentary is streaming online for free on YouTube and it is as warm and introspective as the man who shot it. The film tells the story of the rise of populism in America. Traveling 8,000 miles through the US over three months, Jamie experiences first hand the major events of the US election - housing crisis in New York, the disappearing industries of the Rust Belt, the grief of Black Lives Matter in Charlotte, the rage of Hurricane Matthew in Myrtle Beach, The Wall in EL Paso, the mining communities of Colorado and the riots in Oakland. He showcases how people in different cities with different sets of privileges will maneuver through an election differently.

But that’s not what makes it special. Not because it’s not relevant, but because it’s not a secret. Most people can understand that your political choices are dependent on your access, resources, and privilege. What Jamie did incredibly well is put a face to the conversations being had on your TV screens and the gridlock happening in our capital. Having multiple conversations with people who are homeless because of their medical bills brings a new perspective and a greater weight to the topic of universal healthcare. Discussing American promise and freedom with a group of queer black people brings a different understanding.

Jim Kroft spent a chunk of his year exploring the great Western experiment as it arguably crumbled to the ground. It’s like someone on the Titanic with a camera asking each passenger how they felt about the Iceberg and the lack of life jackets. What a conversation that would be. And what a conversation this is. Shot on a shoe-string budget and with filming, editing, and music all undertaken by the director, “A Conversation With America” is an epic love letter to the US and a steadfast protest in film against hate speech in society.

The film has already been accepted into 50 film festivals and has been awarded "Best Documentary" at Mindfield Film Festival Albuquerque, Trinity Detroit Film Festival, American Golden Picture IFF, Real East Texas FF, LA Punk Film Festival, Nevada Newsfest, Peak City IFF and California Awesome Film Festival.

It’s safe to say that I love this film and this person. More importantly, I wholeheartedly believe that this is the only conversation America should be having right now.