• April 8, 2020

Hanson Hosein about the doco Independent America

Hanson Hosein about the documentary Independent America


I did this interview on the 19/11/2007  (but due to the site change I forgot to put this up) well that when the answer came back from Hanson of the film makers of the important documentary Independent America and it is about mom & pop stores in America and big business. I think this is was a very good interview which I did, I gave him some good questions to answer.  If you have any interest in small businesses in America, you need to see this.


1. Why did you decide to do a documentary on Mom & Pop stories and small towns fighting to remain independent?

Prior to moving to a small city in British Columbia, Canada, I had lived in Tel Aviv, New York and Paris — all vibrant cities with healthy independent retailers in their city cores.  Back in my native Canada, in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, we noticed ugly “big box” development happening everywhere, even as we were developing friendships with local farmers, bakers, butchers, chefs, winemakers and artisans.  It made me wonder whether this was happening everywhere, particularly in the USA, the home of Wal-Mart, Starbucks and my wife Heather’s family.  So when I got back from six months of reporting on “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and its aftermath with NBC in the Middle East, Heather and I hit the road to find out what was happening.

2. Were you surprised with the people support in the towns you visited when you were filming and making the documentary?

I’m always surprised by the support we receive in the most unexpected of places.  I think this subject really hit a nerve, and you didn’t have to be a left-wing liberal to understand what’s at stake.  First, contrary to the perception overseas, we found the Americans we met to be amazingly sophisticated and intelligent with their responses to the issue — which I believe comes through clearly in the film (one reason why I believe Australians liked the documentary so much).  Second, they were unexpectedly receptive to this odd looking couple with their dog showing up in their town with a camera rolling.

It was also interesting that much of this return to “Buy Local” was a direct impact of a growing concern by many Americans that they had lost control over their big, powerful institutions in Washington (Iraq, Hurricane Katrina) and in corporate boardrooms (Enron, Martha Stewart, etc.).  So why not focus on what they could control?  Right at home.  Increasing fuel costs, global warming, and concerns about global security heightened this awareness.

3. Did you think that it is sad that a lot of these small towns have lost their culture and identity and basically become like every other town?

It’s incredibly sad.  As Angel Delgadillo from Seligman Arizona said in our film (Seligman was also the inspiration for “Radiator Springs” in the animated film “Cars), if his small town gets a McDonald’s all the tourists from around the world won’t be as interested to visit this highlight along Route 66, as it’ll look like everywhere else they’ve been.

But more importantly, as retail diversity disappears, and residents of these towns lose their independent livelihood, they become dependent on one or two major corporations to supply them, which can be dangerous to democracy if it’s a company like Wal-Mart that censors its cultural inventory, or a chain bookstore (it’s often the independent bookstores that takes risks and support new authors, like Khaled Hosseini who wrote “The Kite Runner”).

4. Did you learn a lot from making the documentary and visiting these towns?

Yes.  I learned that America can’t easily be classified as “Red” and “Blue.”  And that it’s important that if big media won’t pay attention to what’s going on in rural America, then we should take things into our own hands, and make sure they have a voice through alternative means (blogging, online video, etc.).

5. Do you have a better understanding of what these small towns have faced?

I do.  And why it’s so important that they continue to survive and thrive.  Not everyone needs to live in a big city.

6. What was the highlight on the journey of making the documentary?

That Heather and I are still married!  And that a crazy idea that we had, that no major broadcaster would fund, could ultimately reach so many people.  It was hard and lonely out there sometimes, thinking we were wasting our time and the last of our savings to do this.  Luckily, we had a supportive partner, our Executive Producer Tom Powers, in Toronto, who kept us going.  And when we met people like philosopher-farmer Tod Murphy in Vermont, who advocates eating products that are supplied as close to home as possible in the name of community security, we were completely inspired and reinvigorated.

7. Are you surprised how well it has been received and that it has been shown in a number of country’s around the world?

We had actually been hoping that people overseas would pick up on how the world’s economic superpower is having second thoughts about its love affair with big corporations.  That said, we were utterly surprised at how Australians and New Zealanders were the first to really embrace the concept of Independent America.  Must be something in the water over there.  I still fantasize that we’ll get to do an Independent Oceana Tour 2008.

8. What was the greatest challenge when making the documentary?
Other than handling all the filming and editing ourselves (especially because it was HD footage), the greatest challenge was continuing to believe that we were on to something and should persevere.
9. Do you wish there were more locally owned department stores in more small towns around America like the found you found where the money stays in town and helps the community?
We do, and we think it’s beginning to happen.  The community-owned store in Powell, Wyoming (“The Merc”) now serves as a model to other towns, which are now asking Powell for advice as to how they can do the same thing.
10. Were you surprised how well Arcata has done at limiting the number of big chain stores from coming into there town?
If that kind of law is going to work anywhere, Arcata is one of the most likely places for that to happen.  It’s on America’s “Left Coast” in a progressive university town.  The law has also served as inspiration to a good number of other towns in the United States to do something about the proliferation of corporate chain retail (like Port Townsend, Washington).  Other communities have preferred to stick to “Buy Local” publicity campaigns instead, such as “Keep Austin Weird” in the Texas state capital.
11. Why do you think these big business try to come into these towns where they don’t them?
Money.  These corporations are held to a constant growth standard by Wall Street, so if they’re not always opening new locations and developing new markets, they’re penalized by analysts and shareholders.  Starbucks is the worst offender of this.  Happily they’re now getting some resistance in the United States for oversaturarating certain markets, and maybe even losing sales because of that.
12. Do you think there needs to be more towns like it?
I think each town needs to decide, individually, how they would like to support their residents and neighbors.  We’re hoping our film will encourage them to do that.
13. Do some of these towns really need 3 or 4 of same store when their town doesn’t really need to many of them?
No.  But often those stores serve as magnets to draw in residents from other, nearby towns — which can kill local businesses there too.
14. Was it hard going through all the footage you shot to edited it for the documentary?
We shot about 80 hours of material, for an 81-minute film.  I looked at every single frame as I was putting it together.  We started with a four-hour version, then two, then 81-minutes.  We even have a 52-minute edition for broadcast (which was shown on SBS in Australia).  It was sometimes painful to relive some of the more difficult parts of our journey, but you often don’t know what your story is until you get back and put all the pieces together.
15. What it is next for you two and your company?
We’re frankly exhausted by everything we’ve done in the last two years (Independent America, plus a series of films on economic development in southern Africa which involved driving from one ocean to the other).  So since IA doesn’t seem to want to die, we’re still involved in marketing the film.

We’ve moved to Seattle, in an area that really embodies much of the values of Independent America.  We’re finally starting a family.  And I’m exploring some of the potential of what we achieved technologically with IA in my new position as Director of the Digital Media program at the University of Washington Department of Communications.  I’m really hoping that our next film project will involve some ambitious application of mobile telephone video.  No point resting on our laurels!


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