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New documentary, 'Empty America: COVID-19 and the War for Right'.

UPDATE (June 24th): Since posting this, I have pulled the full-length version of this documentary, as I am entering it in film festivals. You can see the teaser here and updates on festivals are to come as we have them.

As some of you may know, and others are finding out, in mid-April, I packed up my car (with cameras and drone) and traveled the country capturing America as it has never been seen before. (See my interview with Channel 4 News.)  

Though it was during the “stay at home” order I still felt compelled to capture some beauty footage of Mt. Rushmore and Moab…but as I breezed through Chicago during rush hour with no traffic, I knew I had to do more!

As I departed Michigan with our governor furthering orders of the lockdown, I felt a little irresponsible and scared.  In the back of my mind, I questioned my choices and wondered if they'd be tracking me.  Eventually, I got past my anxiety and became more engrossed in the empty freeways and cities.  For the first 18-hours of driving, I listened to nothing. No music, no news, nothing.  It wasn't a conscious decision, it was more just a need for silence after the last month of chaos on every media outlet across America.  Then someplace in South Dakota, before reaching Mt. Rushmore, I turned on the AM radio and the sound bites started to flow.  From local talk radio hosts to religious ministers and call-ins from the local audience, I suddenly found something I could listen to.  In those old AM stations that are seldom visited by mainstream America, I found the pulse of what was happening in communities across the country.  Camera rolling and drone flying, I started to grab shots and sound bites from every state I passed through.

From the Dakota's I headed south till I hit Moab, a town that should have been rolling with 4x4's and Jeep Jamboree festivals. It was dead to the world and the experience of entering this silent place creeped me out.  I wanted to ask where everyone went, but I knew.  I began to wonder if the air I was breathing was contaminated. Watching people alone in cars with masks and gloves, coffee shops closed, sidewalks empty…it all began to work away at my psyche.  At night I’d be lying in bed in my hotel room, staring up at the air vent overhead, sure that I would soon be dead.

From Moab, the trip started to roll along quickly and the experience was contagious. I drove through LA during rush hour without a single stop-and-go moment. Literally, I whipped past the 405 and 101 interchanges at 5:30 pm on a weekday, one of the busiest in the world, and I passed like it was a four corner stop in Hickville, USA. I covered the empty streets of Hollywood and stood alone over COVID victim Tom Hanks’ Hollywood Star. I went to the center of the world's biggest ghost town, Las Vegas, where time stopped. I walked across four empty lanes of traffic on the Strip without the sound of a car or slot machine. Alone at the entrance of the Grand Canyon, an empty Six Flags with a silent Oklahoma City in the background, for two weeks the world was standing still as I was whipping by.

Before I knew it I had touched the Pacific Coast and was heading back home to Michigan yet something was incomplete, I hadn't been to the epicenter of it all, New York. As the miles on the Jeep rolled toward 7000 and the hours in the car over 110, I decided to finish what I started and headed east. Upon arrival in the Big Apple, it all became complete. From Times Square to Wall Street, Broadway to Grand Central, the city was as empty as the rest of America. Minus the moments in Hoboken watching locals bang pots and pans in recognition of the medical workers, the city and all its iconic surroundings were now silent.

From start to finish the trip was one that left me really thinking about all the layers of this pandemic. From the virus that started it all, to the political war for who is right and who is wrong that ensued, this whole thing has left me wanting to offer something back to the country that I love. But what can I offer? Some form of reason, maybe. Perspective, hopefully. Whatever it is, it comes from a deep desire to see this country return to a place where we can listen to each other again. Where compromised leaders aren't offering compromised advice. Where American's can fear less and love more. Idealistic as it may be, isn't it better than the war of ideals that we're in right now? I don't know. You decide. After all, this land is your land.

My interview with Channel 4 Detroit and Kim DeGuilio (watch).


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