- 1992 Sundance Film Festival
Where Are We? is the standard question of travelers on the highway. In this case the travelers are Academy Award—winning documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein (Common Threads, The Times of Harvey Milk) and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads, Faces of the Enemy). They set out by van, bus and train to discover an America they haven’t seen before. What they discover along the way gives another answer, perhaps a more metaphorical one, to the question, “Where are we?”
This disarming film captures people, strangers, who are willing to disclose some of the highs and lows of their very-ordinary lives. Prompted by insightful and open-ended questions, people reveal themselves in ways they don’t fully intend to. The interviews are not conducted in ambush style, but rather rely on an uncanny sense of where people’s stories are hidden: “Where are we? What do you do here? What are you afraid of? What are your hopes for the future?”
The result is a kaleidoscope of bizarre, sometimes-sad, sometimes-funny stories, full of the beats of people’s lives: from a middle-aged mobile-home salesman giving his sales pitch to a young couple, to gay Marines coming out of the closet, to an obsessed Elvis fan, whose husband has built an elaborate miniature of Graceland on their front lawn.
Where Are We? is a random portrait of American culture, if we dare call it that, that is not entirely complimentary. These are glimpses into life stories as the landscape hurtles by, as if life itself is one big blur: inarticulated visions of regret, deferred dreams, unmet expectations and quiet desperation, often formed as a reaction to media images of how life is supposed to be. Where Are We? is a road map into the heartland of America, a travelogue about the psyche of a people often limited by their own vision of themselves. As one smiling old man says after learning the filmmakers are from California, “. . . they might run you back . . . no, we like people from other countries.”
— Lawrence Smith