Tuesday was movie night at Emily Fowler Central Library. Audience members sat around a horseshoe table, some with notepads, to watch American Creed.
The event was the first of three in the library’s grant-funded Cultural Appreciation Series, which seeks to use American identity as a starting point for community conversations.
American Creed, a Public Broadcasting Service documentary, provided a relatively tame look at what holds Americans together. Several gently competing voices from across the socioeconomic spectrum offered various takes on a single premise: A central creed holds America together.
Conversation in the film was structured around a roundtable discussion among Stanford University students moderated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and historian David Kennedy.
No strong narrative voice leads viewers through the vignettes stitched together to form the documentary. Instead, brief windows of Americana are intercut with interviews.
Joe Maddon, manager of the Chicago Cubs major league baseball team, spoke about the coal mining culture in his hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Deidre Prevett, a public school principal in Tulsa, explained the equalizing potential of education. Eric Liu, a son of immigrants and founder of Citizen University in Seattle, performed spontaneous, mock naturalization ceremonies for American citizens.
Images of suburban developments shift into barbed-wire fences and farmland. A child recites the pledge of allegiance in a school classroom and sign-wielding protesters scream. Soldiers rush to board helicopters with silently spinning rotors.
With no strong narrative voice, viewers are left to fashion an American creed from the scraps presented mixed with personal experience.
Carol Wickstrom, a professor at the University of North Texas, and Dawn Terrizzi, adult services librarian for the Denton Public Library, co-moderated Tuesday’s film screening.
Wickstrom, who first saw the movie approximately two years ago, saw hard work as the common thread throughout the film. No matter the financial troubles, country of origin or specific goals in mind, she said, Americans are willing to work to get things done.
“We’re not just expecting [success] to land in our laps,” she said.
Terrizzi saw a different takeaway. In her view, the most central theme of the documentary centered around the freedom to choose.
The documentary answers no questions, nor does it pretend to.
Wickstrom said the movie is just a vehicle to facilitate discussion — a tool to start conversations: “To me, it’s a way to open the dialogue.”
What exactly the dialogue is meant to be is a bit foggier still. Immigration, financial and political issues; what Americans believe, why they continue to live here and why people keep arriving, are all good places to start, she said.
With the film completed, Wickstrom and Terrizzi led the few audience members through a discussion of the themes presented over the previous hour.
The first question from the audience was an unaddressed elephant in the documentary: “So what’s happened in America that makes it so impossible for two different groups of people to sit down and discuss things?”
Moderators and audience members went back and forth for the next few minutes taking their best stabs at a response, but no clear answer came forward. The question sparked a speculative conversation that stretched far beyond an ordinary response, but maybe that was the point.
The Nature of Seeing, Part 2 of the Cultural Appreciation Series, will be held at Emily Fowler Central Library at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 8. Led by John Terrizzi, Texas Woman’s University professor and husband to Dawn Terrizzi, the discussion will focus on prejudice and how it forms naturally in humans.
Part 3, a book discussion over Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet, will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6 at Emily Fowler Central Library. Extra copies of the book were purchased using grant funds, and several copies are available at each of the three Denton library branches.
American Creed is available for free at https://to.pbs.org/2EUR1O6.