Author: Riley Hooper
On the afternoon of Jan. 21 Occidental students joined in a worldwide conversation with President Barack Obama. Entering a homemade booth made of netting and blue cloth with the words “Send a message to the USA President!” handwritten on its side, students recorded messages to the president as a part of Australian filmmaker Peter Hegedus’ feature length documentary film “My America.”
“It’s about my journey trying to get to the president,” Hegedus said of his film. “I want to take the peoples’ voices to him to find out what America means to the world and what the world means to Americans.”
A film of global proportions, Hegedus’ documentary is personal as well. Born in Budapest, Hegedus’ upbringing in socialist Hungary in the 1980s caused him to idealize the U.S.
“America always was, to me, a beacon of light, and I grew up with a feeling inside of me that America, in some ways, has this power and capacity to do good in the world,” he said.
However, when former president George W. Bush came to office and invaded Iraq, Hegedus began to question his perceptions of America. It was at this time that he got the idea to make a film about the U.S., and when Barack Obama was elected, he decided to record the voices of people from around the world.
“I felt that Bush was so far removed from what Americans felt and what the world wanted,” he said. “And I felt that when Obama came into office, there was a real opportunity to work together for change.”Given America’s influence and impact in the global community, Hegedus feels that the voices of all the citizens of the world should be heard by Obama.
“We all have a need and a right to be heard by the most powerful person in the world, and I think that is the president,” he said.
“My America” will feature video messages that Hegedus has collected from people of the seven countries he has filmed in so far: Australia, China, Iran, Hungary, Kenya, Mexico and the United States.
“I like to say I’ve been to four continents because that sounds better,” he said with a laugh.
There is also a feature on the film’s Web site that allows people to record their own messages for the film via YouTube.
While early messages expressed excitement, hope and high expectations, more recently there has been a lot of disappointment and disillusionment expressed, Hegedus said.
“What’s interesting, I guess, is that people want different things, and it makes me realize what a tough job the president has, you know, trying to please everybody,” he said.
A general theme arising in the messages concerns America’s global role as it is now and what it should be in the future, Hegedus said.
“Is America a great protector, or a bully, like a lot of people around the world are saying?” he asked, answering that one cannot label the country as either.
At Oxy, students who recorded videos expressed disappointment in the president, and the topics of education and health care were frequently brought up, Hegedus said.Jacob Steele (first-year) discussed the budget crisis and how it has affected the public schools of Southern California.
“I feel like some of our priorities aren’t straight,” he said of the U.S. “Our focus is divided, which is reflected by the way funds are allocated.”
Diana Birney (junior) recorded a message about the health care issue in terms of education.
“Education is much more of an important issue than health care, and if we ever fix education, health care would be easier to fix and might even right itself out,” she said.
Following the filming at Oxy, the crew moved on to UCLA’s campus, where they had to stop halfway through filming because they didn’t have a permit, according to Hegedus’ Twitter.
The crew also set up the booth on Hollywood Boulevard and recorded messages from the people dressed up as movie stars outside Grauman’s Chinese theater.
“You had these omnipotent-looking stars sitting in the booth and being vulnerable . . . talking about what the real problems are in America – that was very special,” Hegedus said.
Since not all of the messages Hegedus has recorded in his travels and those recorded online will fit in the feature length film, he plans on sending all of the footage to the White House as a single package. After two full years of fundraising followed by three years of filming, “My America” should be ready to release at the end of this year, Hegedus said.
The larger objective of “My America” is to bring people closer to their leader, said the filmmaker. This is why Hegedus plans to project the messages outside the White House during a trip to Washington, D.C. later this month.
“If he’s not willing to come to me, then I’m gonna go to him,” he said of Obama.
Alex Wheeler (first-year), another student who recorded a message, is doubtful that Obama will actually see the film, yet is positive about its intended impact.”It has the potential of raising some interesting questions and starting new discussions,” she said.
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