A film we’ve written about quite a bit… previously titled Make A Movie Like Spike, and eventually changed to the current The American Dream, the intense, gripping drama is directed by and stars Jamil Walker Smith as Luis, an aspiring filmmaker who joins the marine corp with his best friend Ronald (Malcolm Goodwin), after getting rejected from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
The American Dream is being released on DVD, VOD and digital download today, July 3, 2012. You can pick up a copy at a Wal-Mart near you OR online at: iTunes, amazon.com, walmart.com or littleplowfilms.com.
But I’ll shut up now and let the filmmaker (Jamil Walker Smith) tell his own story; first, the story of The American Dream, and second, a video Jamil recorded for S&A readers, which follows underneath.
The Story of THE AMERICAN DREAM by Jamil Walker Smith
I met a young man named Lloyd and we became friends. One day I found out that he was a Marine. This made me angry, not at what I perceived to be his ignorance but rather because he was so conscious. He, like me knew that the war was unjust. My anger was rooted in my inability to understand his story because it was not my own. However, in asking more questions I began to see parallels between our circumstances. I was frustrated with films’ lack of specificity to the black experience. Because of this void I wanted to make a film that transcends race. However, I felt overwhelmed by my inability to have the means to make a film. Lloyd felt helpless living with his grandmother while going to college and supporting his family. Desperate to make our dreams the truth, we were both willing to go to great lengths to become the heroes we had spent our lives searching for. From our time together I created characters whose life reflected our own. Their names are Luis and Ronald and their story is THE AMERICAN DREAM.
Armed with dreams that extend beyond their block, Luis and Ronald, two best friends from Los Angeles, make a movie documenting their last 36 hours before shipping off to Afghanistan. Luis wants to be a filmmaker and Ronald wants to travel the world and raise a family.
With no money for film academy, and grades too low to win a scholarship at a University with a film department, Luis decides to enlist in the Marine Corps.
The Recruiter promises Luis that if he enlists, the Government will pay for his film school tuition when he returns home. In doing research, I actually went into an Army Recruitment Center as if I were Luis. I told the Recruiter my story (Luis’s story), and as I was walking out, promotional materials in hand, the Recruiter stopped me and said, “Come by anytime and make this place your home, Luis Walker I look forward to saying I recruited the next Spike Lee.”
This conversation represents one of the central themes explored in the film: what does it mean to be an artist in this country if a young man from the working class believes he must put himself in a position of the ultimate self-sacrifice in order to pursue his chosen career?
In their darkest hour, they turn on the video camera for the last time and document the final moments of their journey home. They soon realize that their dreams and promises of a new life mean nothing in a place called War.
As artists we feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to tell stories that reflect the times. Our globalized society is obsessively voyeuristic: from reality TV to Facebook. People are documenting their lives and sharing their experiences with the world, thus blurring the line between real and fake; between sacred and commonplace. Our peers are no longer fooled by special effects and fantastical worlds that don’t exist. People want to escape into worlds that are real, into lives that reflect their own. For this very reason, this is an exciting time to be an independent filmmaker.
Drawing from the Dogma 95 Movement and the global street art movement, we are creating a new film movement here in the United States where the lack of resources serve the story as opposed to hindering it, blurring the line between reality and fiction. However, our intention is not to trick the audience into believing that what they’re watching is real, but rather what they’re watching is true to life.
Conceptually, we were interested in exploring what the effects of capturing one’s life through a lens has on its subjects and circumstances. Do we record so that we can forget? In documenting a moment through a lens, does it remove us from that moment, thus protecting us from reality? In this celebrity driven global culture, do people feel less significant? Does this realization compel them to say, “I was here and this is what I saw?” Do people record their own tragedy? Or do they only try to capture joy? When do people forget cameras are recording? Questions such as these provided a framework for our approach to the reality of what we filmed.
In speaking with men and women in the military, we soon realized that we weren’t making a film about war. We were making a film that questions a “system” that leaves young people with no better alternative than going to war. A “system” which then appeals to young peoples’ self‐interests, and, in turn, puts them in a position of self‐sacrifice.
Imagine a war film where you never see a battle scene. A film where before you see the soldier’s gun, you see the block he grew up on. Before you see him holding his dead buddy, you see him being held by his mother. These images give war a face; a face if you look at it long enough, you might have the thought “I know him”. With that three‐word admission, the stage is set to watch your boy take the greatest and oldest journey, that of the hero who leaves home, enters the world of the unknown, conquers demons, and if fate would have it, returns home a man.
THE AMERICAN DREAM, is the full-length feature film that Luis would have submitted to film schools and shared with you and his community, upon returning from Afghanistan. In honoring the reality of his world, we made the entire film using equipment and means of production that Luis would have had access to: a prosumer camera, actual locations, Home Depot lights, and friends and family in place of professional actors.
In an age where businessmen make movies and low-budget indie films that have $10 million budgets, THE AMERICAN DREAM is the study of one young man’s passion to tell his story in the face of the machine.
Our mission was to produce a film that appeared to be made by our target audience– those whose realization of the American Dream is war, whether their battles are fought in the streets of Los Angeles or the streets of Kabul.
Election season is fast approaching and corporations are preparing to parade through the country dressed like Democrats and Republicans. What if, a story made by the people for the people, arouses the true majority to speak a truth that is the essence of every great movement — “They can’t kill us!”
And here’s the video Jamil recorded for us and you:
And here’s the film’s trailer, for a glimpse at what to expect, if you haven’t seen it already: