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“What the hell is happening to my country?”November 2016. The day after Donald Trump’s election, I was shocked – like a lot of people. And as time passes, this state of shock has only been confounded by bewilderment, incomprehension and for me and as for many, a rollercoaster of feelings alternating between hopelessness, frustration and rage. Donald J. Trump’s presidency has polarized not only the United States, but people around the world. The divide is growing. The fronts seem solidified. On one side there are the fervent Trump supporters, for whom he can do no wrong. They see in him the successful, non-conformist businessman turned politician, who fears nothing in his quest to rebuild the country and “make America great again.” On the other side, there are the Trump opponents, who see him as the ultimate threat to democracy – an unscrupulous autocrat, who doesn’t shy from bending or flouting laws to his own advantage. A bully, a racist, a misogynist – an incom-
THIS LAND IS MY LAND petent, corrupt, egocentric politician, focused only on his own personal agenda. A danger, not only to the USA, but to the entire world.
After Trump’s election four years ago, I knew I needed to make my new film about this phenomenon. I’m an American, who’s lived all her adult life in Europe – most of the time in Austria. But I was born and raised in L.A. in a progressive family of Democrats. And I wanted to understand what had happened. During the course of the shoots for “This Land Is My Land” I witnessed how polarization increasingly took hold of my protagonists. Can you reconcile a “broken” society? If so, how? Many of Donald Trump’s voters were from groups that were not expected to vote for him. Who didn’t fit into any of the stereotypes of “Trump voters”. The women, the minorities, the lifelong Democrats, the collegeeducated upper middleclass. So I decided to choose a very diverse bunch of Trump voters in Ohio – a Swing-State – along with some of their family, friends and colleagues. These voters are surprisingly different from the average Trump voters – yet they’re representative of millions of others like them, who swung the vote in Donald Trump’s favor in the 2016 US-presidential elections.
When I first met them, I explained that I, as well as most Europeans, need help in understanding why they, and so many others, support Donald Trump. Especially because I’ve been living in Europe for such a long time, I needed them to fill in the blanks. My golden rule was: Don’t argue, listen. A rule I stuck to – though it often wasn’t easy. In my attempt to understand why these voters were for Trump, I also got to know them – I interacted with our protagonists and began to understand them. Then something strange happened: I started to like our protagonists. There were times when I felt like a traitor because of that. Not that they changed my opinions about Trump! Their statements and points of view often made my hair stand on end! Or got me really furious. That’s when I decided the film had to have my viewers experience the same kind of emotional ambivalence I was feeling. The documentary takes the viewer along on my emotional self-experiment and explores what happens when you truly listen and try to empathically understand someone who has ideas diametrically opposed to your own. Can we understand people on the other side of the divide? The Trump voters?
Bolsonaro voters? Le Pen or Orban voters? Not easily, especially when their position is completely opposite to your own. How did these voters get where they are? Our protagonists and I talked about all kinds of things together – family, love-life, hobbies, work. But when it came to Trump I just asked questions and lis-tened. I also listened to Trump opponents. Our protagonists met in front of the camera with other family members or friends, who were absolutely and massively against Trump. They discussed issues. They argued. They ranted. They raved. In short, it was emotional. “This Land Is My Land” explores feelings and emotions – those of the protago-nists’, of my own and especially those of the viewers. Are we willing to really listen to the “other”? Not just once, but repeatedly? It can and will make you uncom-fortable. It should. Is there a way out of the polarization that we are experiencing throughout the U.S. and Europe? “This Land Is My Land” doesn’t offer any pat solutions – instead the film involves the viewer in an on-going process, testing the viewer’s own capacity for confronting and understanding the “other”. Implicit throughout the film, is the invitation to step out of our bubbles and engage with people who think different-ly from us. Not just once, but again and again. That doesn’t mean giving up on issues that are important to us – or compromising our core values. But it does mean learning to interact with the other side and deal with the causes of our di-vision, instead of just tuning them out. Not to listen to opposing viewpoints, not to take them seriously, is, in my opinion, a dangerous mistake.