In 1987 producer and director Geoff Steven spent six months filming in the United States in a quest to understand what makes such a powerful and influential nation tick. Steven’s intention was to circumvent media stereotypes and the “facades set up by politicians and officials” and to talk to Americans from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. The result was this six part series fronted by journalist and author Gordon McLauchlan who introduces each episode and links the interviews with everyday people shot in their homes, factories and offices.
This TV series which attempts to go beyond cliché and stereotype to find real Americans. Presenter Gordon McLaughlan starts at Ellis Island — where late 19th century immigration marked what he calls the beginning of modern America. Interview subjects include a Jesuit priest running a home for street kids in North Bronx, a construction company vice-president of Italian descent, an Ohio auto worker watching on as the rust belt encroaches on industry, and a retired submarine captain who is master of a replica of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock.
More everyday Americans are encountered as this documentary series — fronted by Gordon McLauchlan — visits Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky to explore the Bible Belt touchstones of patriotism, mining, religion, guns and country music. Interviewees include a former miner and self confessed mountain man who collects guns and teaches scripture, a new wife and mother trying to settle into life in a smaller town, a truckie and aspiring musician who sees big rig drivers as the last cowboys, and a singer/songwriter looking for that elusive big break in Nashville.
In this episode of his US TV odyssey director Geoff Steven reaches the Deep South. In Memphis, jailer WC Watson introduces his gospel singing family and there are rapturous scenes as they perform at their Beale Street church. In New Orleans, a youth court judge and her lawyer husband attempt to balance jobs and social work with raising their own children. The flipside is provided by descendants of slave owners looking for ways to hold on to their mansions now that the plantations that once supported them have gone.
Sharply contrasting lives in the South-West feature in this episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip. Cosmetics millionaire Mary Kay Ash talks about her empire from her pink, Liberace-inspired Dallas mansion; while business efficiency guru Michael George seeks to make American industry more competitive. Meanwhile, in the New Mexico desert, Pueblo Indians attempt to reconcile ancient traditions with the nuclear arms industry that employs them; and, in El Paso, a second generation Mexican-American border guard intercepts illegal immigrants.
This episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip is another study in contrasts. In North Dakota, there’s impressive access to an underground missile control room staffed by highly trained officers who hope they never have to do the job for which they've prepared. Nearby, the members of a determinedly pacifist, Christian, socialist Hutterite community make for unlikely neighbours. There's also an exploration of small town values as Gilby celebrates its centenary on the 4th of July — while a John Birch Society member provides a less festive note.
The final episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip provides a number of different takes on the American experience. A mother working as croupier in Reno, Nevada, puts a more modern and respectable face on the state’s previously disreputable gambling industry. An 82 year old professional banjo player in Virginia City recalls his days as a cowboy, while a TV reporter still rides the range on his days off. An upmarket health spa is flourishing in Tucson, Arizona; and, in Florida, Miami has been reshaped by a massive influx of refugees from Cuba.