“American Bear” is an upcoming documentary that explores a rather interesting phenomenon, which is often widely regarded by the cynical amongst us as a near-extinct quality: the kindness of strangers.
This project was conceived by Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano, two American film-making students. Inspired by oneiric design and driven by a desire to explore their country and mingle with its people, the young couple embarked on a unique adventure. Within 60 days and across 25 states, they set out to explore six towns named “Bear” (hence the documentary title).
Nothing extraordinary so far, except for the fact they decided to rely exclusively on the kindness of strangers when it came to find a place to sleep and the occasional free lunch, while out on the road.
Did they make it? Is there still hope for those who believe in good old-fashioned American kindness? That is something we shall fully understand only after the documentary is complete (but between you and me, everything indicates they had a very positive experience indeed).
At this point, the American Bear documentary is upon post-production. If you believe that good will among humans is not a myth and you’d like to help support this project, you can chip in via KickStarter; to know more about this project, you can see the official website as well as the official blogspot where the wayfaring couple shared their adventures while on the road.
The American Bear Interview
In case you’d like to know more background information… here’s an interview we made with Sarah, focusing the American Bear experience and how it changed her world-views. If you approve of this experiment, make sure to help any way you can!
It’s not just a matter of money, either: merely by sharing the official links and videos (or even this interview) via your favorite social media channels, you’ll effectively be supporting the project by helping spread the message.
1) What is the biggest lesson you learned while on the road?
I think I was constantly learning lessons. I learned a lot about people, and comfort and reacting to the smallest changes in someone’s facial expression. I learned how little sleep I really needed! haha. I learned so much about why and how we help each other — it was amazing. There is just so much to learn from other people, about their cultures and about their lives. I think thats a huge part of why we did it: we want to encourage people to connect, learn, ask questions!
2) If you had to start over from scratch, would you do anything different?
Most of the things that I would do differently are technical and involve equipment. Like I would have bought better lav mics. hah! But! Every step of the way the choices that we made impacted the film in a great way. So much of it was a chain reaction, and everyone we met taught us something that in a way made us ready for someone else along the way. Perhaps, the one thing I can think of — When we stopped in my home town, Alamosa, CO — we stopped for a break day. Because we’d been on the road for over a month without a rest — we stayed with my parents. I kind of wish we had tested kindness there, I think we would have found a lot of it!
3) After going through this project, how did your worldviews change?
I say this a lot, but its so true: I started the trip with a sort of hypothetical faith in people and ended it with a very real and actual faith. Its a subtle change but it makes a world of difference! I like people even more than I used to!
4) From the places you visited, which would you settle down at?
This is so funny, because one of Greg’s favorite thoughts before the journey was that we were visiting places that could be our future homes! And now, he really doesnt think any of them would work for him. I, on the other hand, liked the majority of the smaller places we visited. Chicago was also great — I love Chicago.
I think I could definitely live in Decorah, Iowa. The family of friends we stayed with there was amazing and had fantastic energy and they were playful (it doesnt hurt that they were our age). I think I could live in Mazmanie, WI — but mostly because it reminds me of my home town in Colorado.
I would love to live anywhere in Montana — that state is beautiful and being form Colorado, I have to have my mountains! And during our test shoot we visit Kennebunkport, Maine — which has a TOTALLY different vibe from all the other places Ive listed — I could totally live there too. I think what makes some place good for me is a very distinct and present flavor, community and way of existing. Chicago, Decorah, Mazo, Kennebukport — all incredibly different places!
5) What expectations do you have for the “American Bear” Documentary?
We are hoping to get it finished by July and then it will be ready for the world! We want to distribute it and we want as many people to see it as possible. We’ll be applying to film festivals of course — but really just want the documentary to impact people. And a lot of them!
The other big exciting piece of the American Bear puzzle is all of our outreach and marketing. We want to get people involved and get them working towards similar goals. We have a place on our website for people to submit their own stories of kindness and generosity (from strangers or friends; we are working on a mini series called Bear Bones that interviews experts in sociology, psychology, neuroscience, kindness and homelessness about where kindness comes from; we have weekly missions for kindness to strangers. We encourage involvement!
6) After reflecting on the kindness of strangers, what projects would you like to do next?
So many! I think kindness is such an important thing — and connection. I think we often forget about connecting in a face to face way. Living in Syracuse, and working almost constantly, I find that my social skills are dwindling. I, and most of America, need to take time for people – even people we dont know. I read an article yesterday about people’s regrets on their death beds — morbid, a bit, but statistically super fascinating — most people were sad that they worked too hard and didnt make time for friends! imagine that!
The other secret about Greg and I is that we both studied narrative filmmaking in college — so our next project is probably going to be more narrative (maybe a hybrid?) — we both have thesis shorts that we need to finish. Greg’s, called Apiary is about finding love in new york city and sort of the interconnectedness of people (not that dissimilar from American Bear). And mine, called Hold Your Arms Out, follows three people who make a sort of mismatched family (not unlike many of the families we met!): a woman who moves from Italy to Colorado because she wants to be a cowboy, a rancher who no longer wants to ranch and a little girl busybody.
So we write together sometimes and we are really hoping to make a narrative feature next!
(And you have our blessings! The team behind Slices of Life is rooting for you, and hoping the American Bear documentary will create a deluge of positive repercussions, later this year.)