I admit it. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder when it comes to the Midwest. Virtually all of our national media and culture (movies, TV, radio shows, publishing houses, etc.) comes from the coasts. And their attitude toward the middle of the country? To paraphrase Rick played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “They’d despise us if they gave us any thought at all.”
So, it was refreshing to read about a little bit of film coming out of one of the finest theater companies in the country, American Players Theater in Spring Green. This morning’s Wisconsin State Journal carried a story about a group of APT actors and theater personnel who are forming their own film company proudly based right here and telling stories about the Midwest from a Midwestern sensibility.
To quote from the WSJ story:
Both “We’ll Want for Nothing” and “One Foot In” (their first two short films) were shot outdoors “kind of out of necessity” because of the pandemic, but both have a rich, rural, Midwestern aesthetic.
“I think we’re interested, as a collective, in telling stories that are grounded in this rural, Midwestern sensibility,” Schabla said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we always have to shoot out in the middle of the woods. There are all kind of vibrant cities and places to film in. But there’s something about the humility of the Midwest, how understated it is, that lends itself to film and lends itself to contextual screenwriting that’s less sexy and less snappy, and hopefully goes to a deeper place.”
“This area of the country is often depicted as — it’s something that’s been made fun of a lot,” Truschinski said. “I feel like a lot of (film) stories are based on what people are doing on the coasts. We want to shine a light on how beautiful this part of the country is, but also how varied it is. The Midwest is not just one thing.”
“There’s a natural resiliency to the people who choose to make this place their home,” he said. “And both of our first films are about that.”
Humility. Understatement. Resilience. But also rural and urban. Varied. Not just one thing. To the media and cultural centers on the coasts the Midwest is reduced to just one thing and that thing is either dark or naive. We are simple people who sometimes commit ghastly murders. Garrison Keillor meets Ed Gein. There is no attempt to understand us, to dig deeper, to balance our native humility with our ambition. The APT film company, yet to be named, wants to do what coastal elites will never do: explore the Midwest in a way that’s thoughtful and nuanced, that captures our contradictions and our complexity.
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Welcome to Midwest, a regular Sunday morning feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s good to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.