As the Republican and Democratic conventions took over our TV screens this summer, the discomfort I felt in my gut grew unbearable. So much is at stake in any presidential election, but this year is different.
Beyond the usual rhetoric heard in previous campaigns, the future of our nation actually seems to be in danger, with a candidate whose lack of compassion, vitriol and apparent aversion to statesmanship of any kind threatens the very future of our democracy. One night in August, as I sat in my living room feeling helpless and contemplating how I might get involved, an email appeared in my inbox asking if I'd like to participate in the Local Voices campaign. Hell yes, I said!
As a filmmaker, I'm drawn to American stories, but living in New York City I felt removed from the main streets where this election will most certainly be decided. As an artist and storyteller, I knew there were stories out there to be found, and I relished the opportunity to tell one. I desperately wanted to have conversations with people who had perspectives different than those of my friends, family and Facebook feed.
A few weeks later we arrived in the belly of the beast: the battleground state of Ohio. We spent time in Canton and Youngstown with the voters who will keep Ohio blue, or turn it red, in November. Most of the people we met were welcoming and kind. But there was an unmistakable tension in the air about how much is at stake in this election and fear among Americans about what is to come.
I feel the most important tool of a documentary filmmaker is connecting with people. I wake up excited and energized because I love my job. I strive to tell stories that allow people to better understand our shared humanity and our shared responsibility to make the world more just and equitable. Most of my time is spent with the people I'm filming - in their homes, their workplaces, even on their cellblock - and I am fortunate to often spend long periods of time together, building trust over months and years.
In Canton, we had only one day to capture the story of Denny Smith, a 78-year-old retired educator, veteran and supporter of Hillary Clinton for President. But that day represented one of my best days at work as a documentary filmmaker.
We met Denny at 6:00am to go fishing, accompanied him to church where he sang and performed trombone with the choir, and spent several hours at his home. Denny spoke about truth, honesty and the urgency of this election. He spoke with the weight of his lifetime of experiences as a public servant and community member, and he spoke from his heart.
We captured him on film, utilizing the best lenses, cameras and lighting equipment - knowing with only 60 seconds to tell this story, the visual impact would be essential. Upon meeting Denny, his warmth and his enthusiastic embrace of life were infectious and we knew it would be important to capture that on screen - driving our approach to film him doing those things that give him joy, in close-up images to transport viewers into his world.
I'm honored to share Denny's story and the stories of other people I met in Ohio. These are the middle class Americans whose voices are rarely heard in the national debate. They are hard-working Americans who have decided to vote for Hillary.
I'm thankful to those we met in Ohio, for trusting us and opening their homes to us. And thankful to have the opportunity to use the skills I've learned as a filmmaker to elevate Denny's voice. Because of that I am more hopeful today than earlier this summer.
About Local Voices
Founded in 2008 by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch (BULLY), Local Voices is a Democratic Super PAC that creates cinematic campaign ads in "battleground counties of battleground states." Using the authentic voices of rural voters and then airing those ads in that very same area, the Local Voices model has been tested and demonstrated to be uniquely persuasive. Over the last two election cycles, Local Voices has produced and aired more than 40 campaign ads, winning working class votes for the Democratic ticket. Local Voices' ad campaigns have garnered industry recognition, including Reed Awards for "Best Presidential Television Ad" (2008, 2012) and Pollie Awards for "Best Overall Campaign Series" (2008) and "Best Overall Television Campaign" (2012). See all ads on Facebook or YouTube. Join the discussion on Twitter.
All ads are paid for by Local Voices and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.