Mostly indebted to Rachel Rosss comparably ethnographic “Hale County This Morning This Evening” without rivaling the richness of its insights, “This Land” prizes moments of intimate visual beauty. The landscape photography, of which there is plenty, is attuned to light and shadow, which can abstract a character into silhouette as they walk through a desert at dusk or view them from afar as they swim downstream. Although it introduces its main subjects early on, the film is carried less by their stories than by associative editing rhythms that keep the tone calm as connections are revealed between characters. In the woods, a rodeo cowboy waxes poetic about his love of riding, while a separate subject dances on the roof of an apartment building in the city, lost in a moment of private joy. A particularly moving parallel finds two different parents reading the same bedtime story to their children. Elsewhere, after registering his righteous anger at America’s long history of white supremacy and violence, another key character retreats into nature and takes solace in sobriety and spiritualism, as a talking head declares: “We have a great country, so let’s keep it that way.”
Inevitably, “This Land” was shaped by the constraints of a global pandemic. To capture the experiences of diverse people around the country in a single day, Palmer and his producers assembled a team of nearly 50 filmmakers who coordinated with each over Zoom. Selecting the main subjects for the film involved a month-long interview process, and Palmer reveals – in press notes, not on screen – that one of the first questions asked of interviewees was “What do you want to share with the world?”
As such, politics often emerges within the context of subjects’ daily affairs, but which way any of them will vote is treated as an entry point, merely a potential path through which the particularities of their challenges and priorities can be elucidated. The subjects of “This Land” ultimately have less to say about Trump — and certainly less to say about his opponent, now President Joe Biden — than one might expect. That people’s politics can be personal, complicated, and contradictory should come as no surprise to anyone living in America, and the idea that political affiliation looms large represents something different for each of us. Despite its lyrical presentation, the film’s lingering ideas are straightforward and sentimental, arguably even self-serving. Our political divide can only be bridged by those who take the time to see each other and who approach such patient acts of observation from a place of genuine compassion, concludes the filmmaker who set out to prove as much in the first place.
Now available on VOD.