After America is set in wintry, grey Minneapolis, the heavy snow weighs everything down into a grim, claustrophobic space. Whether this was a decision, or a happy accident, the winter season of the world and the soul, serves the film well. The process employed and the result Yuzna presents is not conventional filmmaking. A scripted story is told, but one that was clearly reverse-engineered in the edit vs. the customary three acts to a finale. In that sense, this is cutting edge experimental filmmaking. One striking visual moment comes in the scene of a bullwhip artist doing a demonstration with a flaming whip in front of an icy backdrop.
Yuzna talked about his film with Creative Capital (who provided support and funding). “After America is a collaborative, process-based film that tells the story of seven people from diverse backgrounds that are all living in Minneapolis that in different ways, are trying to escape the anxieties and pressures of life in America now. It starts off with a group of criminal justice de-escalation workers, one of which has a personal crisis during a session and chooses to radically abandon their life and run off. Then we see the effects of that play out, as well as how these interconnected stories are linked by these people who are trying to, I like to say, escape the American dream.”
“…ambitious goal to show how seven people’s experiences scale up to represent a broader cultural disconnect.”
The promo materials indicate that it was completed in the same week as the murder of George Floyd and tries to tie the themes of the movie to that event. That’s a stretch. It was an ambitious (and, yes, pretentious) goal to show how seven people’s experiences scale up to represent a broader cultural disconnect. After America fails to achieve that goal, but it does show crucial turning points for people struggling to wrest some meaning out of their lives in the face of difficult circumstances. Yuzna’s intentions are good, but co-opting the Black Lives Matter theme is sure to be taken as an inappropriate grab for attention.
American culture is an idea that is continuously in flux, but in our lifetime has morphed substantially, not only from what we’ve known but also from what we were taught to expect of ourselves. The shock is not what we’re becoming, but finding out from the context of new information that we never were the society marketed to us all our lives. The model of America in our heads is a TV sitcom pitch, not based on our actual history. If there’s an “after” to consider, then perhaps that’s the predecessor.
Yuzna edited 90 hours of footage down to a runtime of two hours, but it’s still long, with an excess of dead space. Faster cuts would keep it lively. There’s no reason After America should be more than 90 minutes, or even less. The blessed relief of catharsis does come in a moment that pays off your time and will put a smile on your face. Stay for the end.
After America screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…the prior model of America in our heads is a TV sitcom pitch..."