This Land

By: Jeff Ching

While watching This Land, I was reminded of 2011’s experimental documentary Life in a Day.  For that movie (produced by Ridley Scott, directed by Kevin Macdonald), participants all over the world were asked to shoot a day in their lives (July 24, 2010) and the finished film would serve as a time capsule to capture a collective human experience, with the main theme of interconnectedness.  This Land (executive produced by Jim Cummings of Thunder Road and The Beta Test) takes that approach, except it chronicles the day of the 2020 US presidential election, a day that had the whole world sh**ing their pants – figuratively speaking…or perhaps literally as well.

Back on topic: This Land serves as a time capsule, to capture what election day was like for all walks of life in America, with footage from all over the country.  The filmmakers don’t pick sides or try to make any major political points.  They’re simply flies on the wall, observing the trials and tribulations for families on both sides of the political spectrum on this one pivotal day in American history.  Biden supporters and Trump supporters get equal screen time.  

Has there ever been more hatred between the blue and red states than there is now?  Many believe that there could be another civil war in the future.  With that said, I really appreciated the intention of This Land.  Instead of taking shots at one side, director Matthew Palmer provides a platform for both liberals and conservatives.  Some people in this documentary talk politics, while some simply live out their lives and we witness their daily struggles and the sweet heartwarming moments as well.  When it all comes down to it, despite how we vote or our ideological views, we’re all just human: wanting to love and be loved, wanting to protect those close to us, and struggling to get through the sh**storms that life often throws at us.  

As much as I loved the documentary’s intention, This Land is missing something that prevents the doc from truly resonating.  For the theme of unity and interconnectedness, I was a bit surprised that I didn’t connect with this movie emotionally, and I feel like a project of this calibre needs to tug at the viewers’ heartstrings.  It’s easier to relate to the other side when you can truly empathize with their pain. However, the movie is only 71 minutes long.  While I get why Palmer wants to keep this project short, perhaps an extra 20-to-30 minutes really could have delved deeper into some of these perspectives, which potentially could have made for a far more moving experience.  The saddest story is between two parents, where the father is forced to raise a child on his own who is battling cancer.  The mother was deported as a result of a Trump policy and living in Mexico.  She tries her best to be in her son’s life as much as she can through Zoom.  This is a story that really needed more screen time than it received.  

The single most memorable story, however, is the relationship between an elderly gay couple; a white man who’s a liberal and a black man who is an avid Trump supporter.  They reference the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, except the big twist is a gay liberal taking home a conservative to meet his equally-liberal family.  Gregory, the conservative, is described as being incredibly kind, generous, and considerate and his partner can’t understand how Gregory can have political beliefs that are not in sync with his personality.  Family dinners get awkward, and the most entertaining part of the movie is a political argument that gets out of control, including Gregory’s views being mocked.  In a later interview, Gregory says to his boyfriend, “Your family pushed me this far right.  A lot of left leaning people are political bigots and bigotry whether it’s religion, race, gender or politics hurt the same.” – that’s really good stuff.  Despite how much they can’t stand each other’s beliefs, the love between them is genuine and you feel like these partners will be lifers.  These two are a shining example of why it’s so absurd that so many of us can’t be friends with people on the other side.  I wouldn’t mind a whole documentary about this couple.     

I wish the other stories could have been as memorable as the one I’ve mentioned, and perhaps a bit more dedication and focus from the production could have fulfilled that potential.  I do hope the doc finds a big audience.  Perhaps other people will connect emotionally with this movie.  Perhaps I missed something and I’d be happy to be wrong about this.  Nevertheless, I liked This Land.  I fully encourage people to watch this, but am I likely to remember this movie a decade later like I did with Life in a Day?  I kind of doubt it.

Final rating: *** (out of 5)


Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.

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