Is Mark Wojahn's life long documentary project. He has traveled thousand of miles across the country, multiple times and has produced, directed and recorded two films on the subject. 

In the 2003 film, Wojahn, traveled by train from N.Y.C. to L.A.. He asked more than 500 people from dozens of different communities: “What do you think America needs? Collectively, their answers related an unexpected story of hope.

The responses were sometimes simple, sometimes complex, sometimes funny, and as varied as the individuals and characters he met.

By the end of the journey, however, it appears that several themes do emerge
as Americans reflect on the events of the last several years and anticipate
the upcoming election year. The sincerity and thoughtfulness with which people responded makes this film more than a travelogue or slice-of-life documentary, rather it is a thought-provoking look at who Americans are and what they instinctively know.

Wojahn’s personal journey is woven throughout the film, yet he resists influencing the responses of the interviewees, including their interpretation of the question, “What does America need?” It is a journey worth taking with him.

WHAT AMERICA NEEDS: FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA had its first Minneapolis screening on November 8th, at the 3rd Annual “Get Real” City Pages Documentary Film Festival, to a sold-out audience of 400.

Over and over again, in more than 500 interviews, 10 different cities and dozens of different neighborhoods, people of different ages, genders, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities celebrate our nation and deliver prescriptions for the country’s woes.

At the time of production, the media were covering an intensely partisan congressional election, President Bush’s early proposals for war against Iraq, threats of terrorism, and a deadly elusive sniper was stalking the suburbs of Washington D.C. The nightly news was a collage of random violence, inescapable fear, unsolvable problems and an uncertain future.

Given this context, it could be expected that those approached would be fraught with dread and helplessness. One might almost expect encounters of mistrust, hostility or even violence. Instead, for the most part people reached out to Wojahn, and expressed not just willingness but an eagerness, perhaps even a need to tell someone their thoughts and feelings about their country. It seemed that many were just waiting to be asked their feelings: The skate punks, the line-cooks, the homeless people, the young professionals, the immigrants, the senior citizens, the shopkeepers, the poets, the homosexuals, the students, the sheriffs, they all had answers, and in many cases their answers were fresh, confident and optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The filmmaker set out to ask America what America needs, but was astonished to discover that all kinds of Americans instinctively understand many of the same essential truths. Truths that if held deeply by enough of us, could provide the basis for workable solutions.

This is not to say that the solutions are easy, or that there aren’t many disturbing, conflicting and contradictory answers delivered within the film- there are: The film documents plenty of angry and disappointed voices, voices of confusion, disgust, cynicism and despair. But in general, these stand out in stark contrast to the more powerful voices of hope. In the end, the movie builds understanding between diverse viewpoints even as it underscores the importance of further dialogue.

REALIZATION

‘What America needs’ serves as an example of how anyone can go out with a digital video camera and a laptop and create an authentic, participatory discussion for the whole world to witness. All that is needed is one question and an open mind. Wojahn interviewed on farms, in the suburbs, in bars, and in places of business. He strived to go outside of his comfort zone and interview individuals he may not immediately relate to.

In all these places, the diversity is astounding. But as diverse as we are, the thing that connects us is our country and our feeling for humanity. It is those two qualities ‘What America Needs’ represents. Seen in this way, what may first appear to be a political problem becomes an emotional experience.

In essence, it is an declaration for the democratic ideal and the democratic necessity of talking and really listening to what people have to say. It is a State-of- the-Union address by everyday people whose viewpoints are rarely sought or heard in conventional media.

History

What America Needs project started in 1992. I had just graduated from college and knew I wanted to tour the country and make a documentary. That year I left Minneapolis and with Minnesota filmmaker, Matt Gannon. We traveled from Minneapolis to Boston, New York, Key West and Louisiana met a lot of people and we did not end with a finished film but had quite an adventure. 

In 1993: I toured with Hunter Mann, a filmmaker and promoter from Washington State. We traveled and interviewed people from Minneapolis, Kansas City and finally ended in Denver, Colorado. These projects never were completed into finished films but it provided me and the crew with a lot of research and life experiences for what would come later.

Wojahn & Bakkom, Hannibal, MO, 1994. 

1994:  I toured with New York artist and filmmaker Matt Bakkom. I guess three times was a charm and for our documentary, we filmed during a two-week road trip covering the length of the Mississippi River. We decided we needed to ask the What America Needs question along the entire length of the Mississippi river . We started at the headwaters in Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota and traveled by car to Venice Louisiana - the last town in Louisiana delta. We posed our -What do you think America needs?- question to people we met along the river’s banks. The resulting footage was a poignant and thought-provoking tapestry of diverse opinions, insights and reflections-a sort of collective “state of the union” address delivered by individuals whose perspectives would typically go unheard and undocumented by conventional media.

In the 1994 film: "An Interior Expedition", the public cited three major concerns: loss of community, joblessness and distrust of politicians.

After filming in Super 8, we edited with sound artist Cine DJ K-60 (aka Chris Kubick). It is this film that became the first finished film “What America Needs -an Interior Expedition”. We premiered the film at No Name Gallery's Soap Factory in 1995 and recieved a "Director's Citation" in 1996 from the Black Maria Film Festival in New Jersey in 1996. 

Interior Expedition (1995) from NKU on Vimeo.

 

PROJECT STATUS

‘What America Needs’ is looking for a producer to film the third film, TV series or installment of this idea. 

To Buy the Film,

WHAT AMERICA NEEDS: From Sea to Shining Sea

93 minutes, DVD, 2nd Edition, 4:3, 2005.

 

Produced, Directed and Recorded by Mark Wojahn. 

Edited by Nick Nichols

93 minutes (DVD or VHS) with special features (dvd only): 

25 min. classroom edit of "From Sea to Shining Sea", 

intro by the director, film trailer and the 1st WHAT AMERICA NEEDS 

Film "AN INTERIOR EXPEDITION" -co-directed by Mark Wojahn, 

Matt Bakkom and Chris Kubick (13min. 1995).

DVD-$10.00 plus $3.00 Shipping

 

VHS-$7.00 plus $3.00 Shipping