After America is best looked at as an experiment caught on film than an actual movie. The pseudo documentary follows the lives of eight real life criminal justice de-escalation workers. Currently, screening at the virtual Slamdance Film Festival, the film explores what it is to be American. On a deeper level, it also looks at trying to find a place in society.
Since this is an idea that has been explored many times, it is up to director Jake Yuzna to bring something memorable to his film. Unfortunately, this never quite happens in After America. The film seems content to move along at its own leisure. The end result is a long and meandering project that never seems to capture what it is looking for.
After America clocks in at just over two hours. This is a long time to watch non professional actors tackle such a weighty theme. The cast – and therefore the film – lacks the polish and nuance needed to get the gravitas of the ideas across. While this is an intentional choice, it does not make things any easier for the audience to watch.
Following a large number of subjects is one reason things go on for so long. In any film, having eight separate characters whose lives and stories rarely cross is asking a lot of the audience. After America does so unapologetically. In one scene, a character planning to write their memoirs is asked, “Who is your audience?” It is as if the creators of the film never asked themselves the same question.
After America does do an excellent job of capturing the melancholy of American life. The flat snow covered landscape of Middle America is showcased in all its drabness. (The movie is set In Minneapolis and the film’s promotional material states it was completed days before the murder of George Floyd.) Though there are some interesting stories – one middle aged man decides to pivot to an acting career, for example – but all are trapped in the monotony of everyday life. Yuzna captures this existence perfectly.
Films have been pointing a lens at society since cameras started rolling. One thing that has been explored often is the idea of being American. It is a subject that everyone can relate to which makes for a potentially interesting film. After America captures the melancholy of American life, but brings little else to the table.
The Slamdance Film Festival takes place from February 12-25. Virtual tickets can be purchased at the official site.
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