In David Heinz’s American Folk Elliot (Joe Purdy) and Joni (Amber Rubarth) are flying from LAX to New York when the plane turns back to L.A. where they learn that the World Trade Center has been attacked and all aircraft grounded. It is 9/11/2001. Both have compelling reasons to get back to New York and Joni takes Elliot along with her in a borrowed hippie van full of someone else’s guitars to road trip it several days back East.
Joni is light-hearted and cheerful. Elliot is a mildly angry young man, frustrated with life. It turns out they have a shared interest in that they are both folk singers and this starting point gives them common ground to build on and to engage others along the way.
“… it starts on 9/11 and that’s what the film is about. Haven’t we done this rumination to death over 17 years?”
I’ll admit to feeling dismay and irritation in the early moments as we learn that it starts on 9/11 and that’s what the film is about. Haven’t we done this rumination to death over 17 years? The timing seems poor: less than 20 years out is not long enough for an historical piece but too far removed from the moment to feel contemporary. The characters, actors, and director are temperamentally Millenials, which doesn’t work, not to mention they must have been very young on 9/11. What could they add that we who lived through it don’t know or haven’t thought about?
This would be a fairly dull piece and weirdly anachronistic as mentioned before except the filmmaker saved it by keeping the tone on track about people helping others in time of crisis. Rather than being an overly sentimental trudge through the first week after 9/11, Joni and Elliot are more or less cut off from the news and the angst as they drive. They meet people who share something about their lives, who help them, and who they help. The title is a double entendre for the American People. Filmed over 3,500 miles in 14 states the beauty of the landscape and the scale of our homeland remind us to put things in proper perspective. The earth and sky endure. Our time passes quickly and our concerns are less important than we think.
“…at ground level differences can fade and people will come together…”
The actors are both accomplished folk musicians, so the music is amazing. The film is quiet and peaceful as they journey in a forced slow pace back to the epicenter.
Ultimately I did grudgingly admit as it played out that the film does add to our consideration of the event that created this world, which 9/11 most assuredly did: this is a vastly different 2018 than if the attack hadn’t happened. Heinz reminds us that at ground level differences can fade and people will come together, and that the power of music can facilitate that sense of shared fate. It’s a good note for our brave new fractured world, something we need to recall and practice.
American Folk (2018). Written and directed by: David Heinz. Starring: Joe Purdy, Amber Rubarth, Krisha Fairchild. In theaters January 26th.
6 out of 10