From Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan comes Our Towns, a documentary that paints a remarkable picture of America and how the rise of civic and economic reinvention is transforming small cities and towns across the country. Based on journalists James and Deborah Fallows’ book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, the film spotlights local initiatives and explores how a sense of community and common language of change can help people and towns find a different path to the future.
User Reviews: "Our Towns" (2021 release; 97 min.) is a new documentary about life of ordinary people in ordinary places. As the film opens, we learn that the film makers selected 8 cities that were visited and written up in James and Deborah Fallows’ book "Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America", and that filming began in 2018 (meaning: in pre-pandemic times). First up are 3 cities in California’s Inland Empire (where James Fallows hails from): San Bernardino, Redlands, and Riverside, as we learn of the ups and downs of that area and what locals have done (and continue to do) to overcome adversity. The remaining 5 cities covered in this documentary are Sioux Falls SD, Columbus MS, Eastport ME, Charleston WV, and Bend OR.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from the Oscar-nominated husband and wife team of Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan. Here they bring the book of the same name to the small screen, looking at mostly smaller cities that have gone through a variety of ups and downs. The stories are remarkably similar: a big crash in economic fortunes at one point or another (many in the 1980s) and the long way back to day, where many of them are seeing a revival, typically with a booming rejuvenated downtown. Comments James Fallows: "The number of breweries is a good indication of how a town is doing." The overall tone of the documentary is civil, and full of empathy and understanding. Or as one TV reporter in Sioux Falls, whose daughter has died from opioid addiction, puts it: "We need to judge less and empathize more, we need to punish less, and help more." The Fallows stress on several occasions how on their town visits they steadily stay away from the (toxic and divisive) national politics. But to me, even though his name isn’t mentioned a single time, the shadow of Trump loomed very large over this documentary. Everything that we hear and see in this documentary is 180 degrees averse to everything Trump stands for. "We need more diversity", comments a business person in Sioux Falls. "I offer my shoulders for you to stand on, and I hope you will do the same for the next person," comments someone in Columbus, MS. "Building up, instead of tearing down", offers yet another. Can you imagine these words ever coming out of Trump? Me neither. So in that sense, this documentary offers hope and empathy, yet is also deeply political. I thought is was quite moving and very well done.
"Our Towns" premiered on HBO earlier this week, and is now available on HBO On Demand, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming services. If you have any interest in seeing what ordinary people in ordinary towns are doing to lift and strengthen their own community, and indirectly this country, I’d readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.