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EMPTY AMERICA: selected in Only the Best Film Awards

EMPTY AMERICA: selected in Only the Best Film Awards

Empty America, a film by Emmy award winning director Barry Walton, has recently been selected out of 210 films in Only the Best Film Awards. This is the second such festival to recognize the film which is gaining some deserved recognition. Built as a snapshot of America during the Coronavirus Covid-19 shut down, the film begins in Los Angeles and travels cross country showing closed National Parks, empty restaurants, dead highways, deserted cities. The film is a time capsule of both the chaos and the conformity that occurred during the early stages of the shut down. Driven by sound bites pulled from regional AM radio stations across the country, the piece begs one to ask the question: What lessons have we learned in how we dealt with the pandemic and how do we find our way back to a better place as a society?

Only the Best Film Awards: Only The Best Film Awards is an online award that recognizes outstanding productions from around the world.



As I received the email that Empty America was selected by Only the Best Film Awards the second festival this month. I was reminded of the most acute moment of the trip. It is a moment that I can't get out of my head, as much as I would like too.

By this point in the trip, I had seen empty Chicago, driven across an empty LA at rush hour and filmed The Las Vegas Strip, empty. I had driven over 1000 miles on empty highways meeting the random stranger in Wyoming who shared with me the photos of the planets aligned. I stumbled on the empty Walk of Stars and Tom Hanks' star (the first celebrity COVID victim) and had had multiple accounts with people and places that drove me forward. By this point, I was no longer taking the trip, the trip was taking me.

I had never intended to travel the country. I only intended to go to the desert to escape from people and the 'stay at home order' madness, but then the trip began to guide my path. Some 14-days in when stumbling across this Tiananmen Square memorial in the middle of an empty Mojave desert I was taken back by the tank and the warning of the dangers of Communism. Then turning to my left I saw this fence which had been placed there by (arguably) the local or regional Chinese community, I was gassed.

Questions began to bounce into my head. Why, here in the middle of nowhere, would they put this messaging? Who did it? And what was the point? The answers were not easy to come by.

People, who presumably spoke Chinese and had possibly lived in Communist China, had come here to leave a warning. However, I was one if not the only one seeing it. For me it was like a burning bush, one that I was not sure if I wanted to touch. I had to ask myself, did I want to be the person who told this story? The story about the virus that no one wanted to hear?

From here I went on to an empty Washington and New York. I saw Time Square and Wall Street empty during rush hour. It was all hard to comprehend the level of mass conformity we had subscribed too in a matter of weeks. Then I went home.

In the festival version, I do not tackle this topic as much as maybe I should have. I was moving quick to edit the piece and didn't have time really to processes that decision. I knew pop culture and media messaging would at best reject that story, if not just pain dismantle my reputation in the process.

I guess now, I am not sharing this to say the virus is a hoax or that we have not done the right thing to protect ourselves as a society. What I am sharing is more the question of where this virus truly came from and what is it doing to our social norms. Freedom is a lot of responsibility on the individual and it requires a government to trust the individual to make the best choices for themselves. Being told that we cannot make those choices or that our choices endanger society is merely a sign of a lack of faith in the individual to make good choices. Do we really want to give up that freedom for the idea of safety?

Seeing festivals begin to recognize this project gives me hope that the entire trip, experience in the desert and intended message to the world was not in vain.



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