America’s Heart & Soul

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Rating: PG

Starring:
George Woodard as Dairy Farmer, Waterbury, Vermont
Charles Jimmie Sr. as Tlingit Indian Elder, Klukwan, Alaska
The Vasquez Brothers as Salsa Dancers, Los Angeles, California
Frank Pino as Rock Band, Waltham, Massachusetts
David Pino as Rock Band, Waltham, Massachusetts
John ‘Yac’ Yacobellis as Bike Messenger, New York, New York
Patty Wagstaff as Acrobatic Flyer, St. Augustine, Florida
Paul Stone as Explosive Art, Creede, Colorado
Ed Holt as Wine Grower, Santa Maria, California
Weirton Steelworkers as Themselves, Weirton, West Virginia
Rev. Cecil Williams as Himself – Glide Church, San Francisco, California
Janice Miriktani as Executive Director, Glide Church, San Francisco, California
David Krakauer as Klezmer Clarinetist, New York, New York
James Andrews as Jazz Musician, New Orleans, Louisiana
Trombone Shorty as Jazz Musician, New Orleans, Louisiana
Mark Savoy as Cajun Musician, Eunice, Louisiana
Ann Savoy as Cajun Musician, Eunice, Louisiana
David Klennert as Junk Art, Elbe, Washington
Art Car Festival as Themselves, Berkeley, California
Michael Bennett as Olympic Boxer, Chicago, Illinois
Erik Weihenmayer as Blind Climber, Ouray, Colorado
Mosie Burks as Gospel Singer, Jackson, Mississippi
Ace Barnes as Oil Well Fire Fighter, Livingston, Texas
James Tuppin as Oil Well Fire Fighter, Livingston, Texas
Ben Cohen as Founder, Ben & Jerry’s, Williston, Vermont
Minny Yancy as Rug Weaver, Berea, Kentucky
Roudy Roudebush as Horse Wrangler, Telluride, Colorado
Rick Hoyt as Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusetts
Dick Hoyt as Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusetts
Amelia Rudolph as Founder, Bandaloop Cliff Dancers, Muir Beach, California

Special Features:
Four Extended Musical Performances

“In Search of America’s Heart & Soul” Behind-The-Scenes Featurette

Feature Audio Commentary with Director / Producer Louis Schwartzberg

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Running Time: 88 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

“From sea to shining sea, from amber waves of grain to purple mountain majesties, it’s not merely the land that makes America beautiful – it’s her people. Captured with stunning cinematography, America’s Heart & Soul takes you on a journey that weaves across this great nation, revealing a rich tapestry of ordinary people living extraordinary lives as they follow their dreams with the freedom of spirit that’s uniquely American. From the Vermont dairy farmer, to the blind mountain climber, to the father and son marathon runners, their inspiring stories are as different as can be – passionate, colorful, courageous, funny, touching,. Featuring an exclusive new song by John Mellencamp, “The World Don’t Bother Me None,” America’s Heart & Soul is a gloriously joyous celebration of being an American.”

America’s Heart & Soul is rated PG for mild thematic elements.

The Movie:
In a time when a lot of documentaries highlight what’s wrong with this country, it’s quite refreshing to see one come along that highlights what makes this country great. Rather than showcasing social problems, politics, or other depressing subjects, you get a snapshot of ordinary Americans leading ordinary lives with uplifting outlooks on life. The final feel of the film is a lot like looking through an issue of National Geographic highlighting the U.S.

I’m not sure how Director / Producer Louis Schwartzberg found all the people that this film highlights, but he was able to get quite an assortment of unique individuals. They come from a wide range of backgrounds including a cowboy, a salsa dancer, a street musician, a truck driver / band lead singer, and a dairy farmer / actor / singer / director. And though all these people discuss their philosophies on life and rosy outlooks, their personal problems are touched on as well. The cowboy is shown to be a recovering alcoholic, the dairy farmer is shown as a divorced father, etc etc etc. Like America itself, the people have their fair share of problems but they rise above them.

Another highlight of the film is the music. Many of the interviewees are also musicians or singers, so there’s a variety of music that is as diverse as the people. There’s folk music, Cajun music, gospel, rock, salsa music, New Orleans jazz, and more. It’s a fantastic mix that is sure to have your toe tapping at one point or another. The mom and apple pie rock by John Mellencamp was also to my tastes, so I enjoyed it as well.

The dramatic cinematography of the film is also noteworthy. There are numerous epic shots flying over amber waves of grain, purple mountain’s majesty, and fruited plains. There are also some impressive shots of the Everglades, some oil well fires, ice cliffs, and more. Some scenes featuring the cliff dancers were also memorable. Overall, it’s some impressive camerawork.

If you enjoy documentaries and are looking for a snapshot of Americana, then “America’s Heart & Soul” is for you.

The Extras:
This DVD is light on the extras, but what is here is good:

Four Extended Musical Performances – If you liked the music in the film, then you’ll enjoy this. They are extended music performances of the songs by the rock band Waltham, the klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, and dairy farmer / folk singer George Woodard. There’s also an extended dance number by The Vasquez Brothers salsa dancers. This was probably my favorite of the extras.

“In Search of America’s Heart & Soul” Behind-The-Scenes Featurette – This feature is almost a biography of Director / Producer Louis Schwartzberg. You learn about his film background, how he likes to shoot movies, how he found the people for this film, and more. It’s quite interesting, especially when he discusses how he does time lapse photography.

Feature Audio Commentary with Director / Producer Louis Schwartzberg – In the audio commentary Schwartzberg goes into even greater detail about how he ran across the people featured in this film. Some were people he specifically looked for, others were ones he happened upon. It’s quite an interesting tale about how this film together. If you’re interested in documentary filmmaking, you’ll want to hear this commentary.

The Bottom Line:
If you like to read National Geographic articles about the United States, then you’ll find “America’s Heart & Soul” is worth checking out.

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