Documentary is one of the most interesting and powerful genres in cinema today. Documentaries can make us realize that reality is ever so close to fiction in ways we don’t even understand. They feed off of each other, and they end up having this symbiotic relationship. We use fiction to make sense of reality and vice versa. Fiction is, of course, one of the best ways through which to analyze reality, but seeing a piece of reality occasionally is just as enlightening. This is a review of “This Land” a new documentary that gives just that.
“This Land” is a documentary directed by Matthew Palmer and tells the stories of several families and individuals on the eve of the 2020 elections in the USA. A pivotal moment for the country, as it was the moment where Trump could have gone for the second period of his presidency. Of course, now we know Trump didn’t win the election, but at that moment the country was completely divided between those who thought one way and those who thought differently.
The opinion is a matter of perspective, but if something has been learned in this 21st century, it is that the creation of the internet and other global platforms has made people live inside their own bubbles. Inside their own circles, also known as echo chambers. Places that are only constructed so that the “truth” can find validation, but never certification. Emotional validation has taken priority over logical thinking and this has taken us into more polarization, which ends up creating more hate between each other.
It is a really sad time for everyone around the world. No one in this current generation has been trained to face the fact that their thinking might not be the right one, that should be corrected, and that the individual should learn and improve themselves from that. Instead, every time someone is hurt for being wrong. They withdraw to a place where they can cover themselves with the excuse that their opinion is being persecuted and that their opinion should be protected and no one has the right to judge them.
As the documentary “This Land” talks about just that. The complexity of human experience when facing a single situation. The opinions and experiences are so many and so different from each other that it seems like it is impossible to make them all live together under the same roof. Unfortunately, there is only one roof, and it is called planet Earth, so there must be a way to make each one of our thoughts find a way through this world.
However, in order to create progress, there is the necessity to create context, and to do that, some opinions that end up being considered “truths” need to be left behind. It is here where the emotional seems to be triumphing over the logical, and then we end with places like Twitter, where all opinions are facts, and no one wants to admit that they might be wrong. In “This Land” people under the same roof have different opinions. There is love around them, but they cannot stand that their partner, the person they live with, doesn’t think as they do.
The documentary uses a different approach from your normal documentary style. There are no interviews here. The film is basically composed of a lot of stock footage and lots of Peeping Tom-style footage, where we see our protagonists going about their everyday lives. Some of this footage feels staged, of course. Some shots are quite beautiful, so it is hard to see them being achieved while not making the subjects of the film say something relevant at those precise moments.
This lowers the amount of impact the film can get from being just a piece of reality put on screen. However, it still works. You just have to stretch your suspension of disbelief. The lack of interviews makes each one of these conversations very important, and they are. You can definitely see how the USA is such a diverse place, with so many cultures and individuals living in it. And yet, none of them seemed particularly fond of each other. It seems like a country bred in conflict, and so conflict is the fuel that makes them move around.
The experiences of black people, gay people, and Native Americans find space alongside white people’s experiences, revealing that they are more similar than what they think. And yet, it seems impossible that the ancestral grudges will meet their end anytime soon. The lack of interviews makes the film feel scattered, there is no clear through line across the multiple points of view, only the American experience, and that is such a broad topic that the film might feel too vague sometimes.
Nevertheless, “This Land” ends up being a great short documentary with a lot to say between the lines. It has amazing cinematography and gives each perspective enough time to make its case so that we, as audiences, might find the contrast between them. It could have gone more in-depth with each story, but there is a lot of potential for this style to continue its development into something much more elevated.