Thoughts on Callahan’s “American Moderate” and “Janey Makes a Play”

Screencap of "American Moderate" by Jared Callahan.

Screencap of “American Moderate” by Jared Callahan.

I don’t want to speak for everybody in class when I say this, but the energy that filmmaker Jared Callahan brought to class when he visited was both refreshing and endearing, especially in comparison to the personalities we had become accustomed to in our guests. Although I didn’t get a chance to ask this in class, I was really curious about the greatest length of production for any of his films. This question came to mind because the other filmmakers who have visited our class thus far have all worked on projects for years at a time, so I wonder if perhaps they were simply more jaded and have experienced more of the filmmaking process that may unintentionally mask their passion for the field.

I think my favorite of the three films was “American Moderate” on the sole basis that the content was so relevant. Upon watching it, I immediately wanted to share the film with friends, especially those back home in Palo Alto, CA who have most likely never been exposed to American citizens like Liz and her family. The film did a particularly good job at inspiring a greater understanding of the logic used by Trump supporters, which in turn allowed the viewer to perceive these individuals as more than “deplorables.” I especially liked the fact that Jared pointed out that a viewer’s perception of Liz speaks more to the viewer’s opinions and values than it does Liz’s. This film also felt very authentic in that it gave off a “homemade” vibe, which I hope isn’t perceived as an insult. For example, when Liz says that she has never perceived herself to be a Democrat, the camera awkwardly pans to her quiz results which indicate that she sides with Democrats on most issues. As jerky and unfocused as this moment was, it added a spontaneous comical spin on a film that was laced with ironies. Jared indirectly addressed this when he said that people tend to excuse quality issues in documentaries, and I think that’s the case because the messiness adds an element of rawness that invokes a sense of reality we expect to observe in documentary film.

Promotional material for "Janey Makes a Play."

Promotional material for “Janey Makes a Play.”

I also really enjoyed “Janey Makes a Play” because my first official foray into film was through a mini documentary about the making of/behind-the-scenes of my high school’s spring play that I created for the online component of my school’s newspaper. Throughout the film, I was wondering where Jared found such a peculiar woman, and for a reason I can’t explain, I was a little disappointed when he revealed that Janey is his grandmother. I think we tend to fantasize the hunt for a story because of the perceived expenditure of effort that comes with exploration into unfamiliar realms, but as Jared proved, often times it’s advantageous to delve further into areas in which we feel comfortable because we may be granted greater access.

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