Home » HBO Documentary Films: OUR TOWNS | Review

HBO Documentary Films: OUR TOWNS | Review

by Jef Dinsmore
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Overview: From Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan comes OUR TOWNS, a documentary that paints a remarkable picture of America and how the rise of civic and economic reinvention is transforming small cities and towns across the country. Based on journalists James and Deborah Fallows\’ book “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” the film spotlights local initiatives and explores how a sense of community and common language of change can help people and towns find a different path to the future. Debut Date: April 14, 2021

Expectations: I’ve never heard of these journalists and their book, so I am interested in what they’ve learned about America’s heartland. Some, when asked about America, focus on the big high-profile large to mid-size cities, but I always think of the smaller towns, boroughs, villages and townships, that dot the landscape. That is my America because I live in a borough surrounded by villages and townships. Those small-scale enclaves in the more rural spaces face hardships & setbacks quite differently from what the big urban centers face. The Fallow study of those struggles will hit home for this small-town boy.

Gut Reaction: With all due respect to the filmmakers and the locales chosen for this documentary, this is not what I expected. I have no problem looking our-towns-203x300at what has happened in San Bernadino Calif., Sioux Falls, S.D.; Columbus, Miss.; Eastport, Maine, Charlestown W.Va. and Bend, Ore. They are all towns with revitalization stories worth telling and serve as shining examples of communities doing what it takes to survive nowadays but, it is not what I thought I was getting.

Perhaps it all has to do with where we live, but to me, my connotation of the small towns that make up the heart of America are not the major cities we can all name or the sprawling suburbs that grow from them. It isn’t even cities or any size or towns for that matter. My America are the smaller communities that are labeled as boroughs, villages, and townships; those lower to middle-class environs in all the rural spaces that connect this country. That is the America I hoped this documentary was going todwell in. That proved a missed opportunity for both the filmmakers and the researchers of this piece.

Another expectation not met was the meat of the Fallow study. I was searching for statistics and facts about the issues, challenges and setbacks ‘our towns’ were facing and how grassroots efforts seemed to be a common theme across our states to keep communities alive. In the rolling hills and backcountry, in the breadbasket of the U. S., in the littlest of ‘our towns’, it is a far bigger struggle. Those stories from across our nation were not found here. It seems only those places that caught the Fallow’s eyes and had a big success story to tell got the camera time where an all-encompassing tale of our lot would have been better appreciated by this viewer.

Conclusion: Though I thought a more important story could have been told here and a better representation of the state of the union could have been examined here, I did feel that the locales are shown were strong examples of the American spirit to deal with it, keep after it and to make it work for the town in some form and fashion. These success stories need to be seen, but there are a lot more of \’our towns\’ from sea to shining sea that needs revitalization as well. How about their stories?

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