NEXT EXIT is a journey through the landscape of American society. Structured as a series of interwoven portraits of working and middle class Americans, NEXT EXIT offers their stories, told in the first-person, as a case study of struggle, faith, and perseverance in contemporary American culture. These are the stories that lie under the surface of the everyday: tragic and ordinary, absurd and heartbreaking. They are the stories that populate the American landscape, waiting to be told, if only someone would ask.
In the preliminary round of filming for the project that would become this documentary, I was struck by the continual recurring stories of conversion, moments when a person had an experience of a higher power in a way that drastically changed him or her, in conversations with different Americans from different walks of life. This documentary asks: Why does faith play such a prominent role in Americans’ lives and how Americans narrate their life stories? How do people seek redemption through adversity? How does faith channel and structure the impulse to create meaning in difficult circumstances? Across the spectrum of religions and spirituality, how do these Americans use faith as tool for coping with the personal, social, and financial struggles of everyday life?
NEXT EXIT is a story of the American road. Starting from Interstate 95 and branching outwards across the United States, the documentary creates an open and sympathetic space for exploring the socioeconomic realities and psychology of the American public.
How does place shape the lives of people? How does the landscape inform the lived experience and interior lives of these subjects? NEXT EXIT is the story of the personal narratives lived and richly recounted within their specific visual and physical environments. Great attention will be given to conveying the unique visual and sonic qualities of each character’s location: from the bygone carnival site to the diner on the side the interstate to the idyllic retirement community.
The documentary’s subjects are filmed in their domestic and professional environments. The conversations are loose and extemporaneous. There is no narration. Instead, the film uses commonalities between various characters’ life stories to move between subjects and locations. The structure of the film mirrors that of the interstate highway system: a patchwork quilt of roadways for a patchwork quilt of narratives.
Shot on high definition digital video, aspect ratio of 16:9, NEXT EXIT will run approximately 80 minutes.
The preliminary cast of characters includes:
Candace Oxendine, motel receptionist, Rowland, North Carolina
Pat and Al Forsyth, retired entrepreneurs, The Villages, Florida
Rebecca Locklean, Waffle House waitress, Rowland, North Carolina
Keland Nance, social worker/gang intervention specialist/car wash owner, Memphis, Tennessee
Fredrick Vorduleid, retired carnival ringmaster, Gibsonton, Florida
Running Bear, carnival employee /performer, Gibsonton, Florida
Further characters will be added or subtracted during subsequent filming across all regions of the US starting this spring: in the North West, South West, North Central, South Central, and North East (South East has already been covered). Stories are found by chance and circumstance, the result of casual conversations and an openness to listen and sit with those who I encounter while traveling. The entire process is organic to the place. The goal of the film is to provide a representative portrait of the American public and the American interior.
The film is shot in an intimate and unobtrusive style. Cinéma vérité is the guiding principle. The film crew is small: myself behind the camera with the occasional assistance of a sound operator or second camera operator. Subjects are mostly filmed hand held, in their familiar and ordinary environments.
The soundtrack to the documentary will be designed by Chuck Bettis, a noted electronic music composer, to reflect the atmosphere of each character’s location while simultaneously helping to weaver together the cast’s individual story arcs.
In my travels across the country for this project, my goal is to move beyond stereotypes to create a rich and diverse portrait of the American people and landscape.