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(David Heinz’s American Folk, starring Folk Artists Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth is in select theaters and on VOD now.)

Seventeen years later and the 9/11 terrorist attacks continue to be used by filmmakers to add another dimension to the collective trauma American people experienced that very day. With any real-life tragedy given the cinematic treatment, there are outings which handle the event with dignity and sincerity and there are outings which use the event to yank raw emotions from the audience with cheap tricks. David Heinz’s American Folk fits snuggly in the middle of this spectrum and is the first 9/11-centric film in a long time to focus on the aspect of America’s greatest modern tragedy: the compassion among strangers.

In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, two random folk musicians, Elliott and Joni, find themselves stuck in Los Angeles with a desire to get to New York City. With few other solutions to their predicament, the two embark together on a coast to coast road trip. Along the way, they meet an array of colorful strangers who are processing the attacks in their own way just like Elliot and Joni.

The great strength of David Heinz’s use of the 9/11 attacks lies in how he doesn’t use it. Heinz keeps the event in the background with allusions to it in dialogue heard from a car radio or brief conversations from supporting characters. As the first act wraps up and the second act begins we learn more details about the attacks but only when Elliott and Joni have reached a new level in their arcs.

The few times the theme of unity for collective healing steers the film off course are in the final moments of the second act. The naturalistic direction Heinz leads his actors with great skill is pushed aside for board line stilted acting which telegraphs what could have been genuine patriotism.

Real-life musicians Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth play Elliott and Joni with great pathos and perfectly embody the sincere awkwardness often experienced among traveling strangers. Their relationship isn’t boxed in the confines of romantic entanglement but rather of the much needed cathartic connection. A connection most Americans were seeking during the days after the terrorist attacks in New York.

David Heinz and company have created a vastly important film in light of today’s heated social and political climate. More people who aren’t believed to be American society’s highest regards anymore are beginning to fear for their future. American Folk doesn’t offer the perfect solution to widespread suffering but suggests to find comfort in the people in and out of your life who may help you draw closer to solace.

– Patrick Howard (@PatHoward1972)

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