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Disney film joyously conveys ‘America’s Heart and Soul’

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution calling for Southern Baptists to “refrain from patronizing” Disney and any of its subsidiaries, noting that the entertainment giant had ignored concerns about anti-Christian and anti-family trends in the company’s products and policies.

In June of this year, in Nashville, messengers to the annual meeting voted to lift the boycott after several favorable developments with Disney.

While it produced some odious features, primarily through its Miramax Films, during the boycott Disney also filmed or distributed several quality, family-themed, movies.

I would like to bring to your attention what I deem to be the best one.

In 2004, Disney distributed a lively documentary titled “America’s Heart and Soul.” At the time I questioned the intended demographic. After all, who chooses a documentary when searching a newspaper’s entertainment section for a family pleaser? Sure enough, the film did poorly at the box office.

Oh, but what a film American audiences missed — America’s Heart and Soul was the most joyous cinema experience of the year. Turning to a friend during the screening, I remarked, “I don’t want this to end.” In 18 years of reviewing films, I had never said that. Well, now it’s on DVD and, though it can’t measure up on TV sets to the gargantuan theatrical event it was designed to be, still it’s an impressive work that, well, captures the heart and soul.

Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here you have the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. Schwartzberg’s gift is his ability to connect with people, honestly capturing their values, dreams and passions. The film is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people.

In an era of “reality” programming that generally focuses on negative traits in mankind, Schwartzberg’s film gives us a positive and powerful glimpse into the diversity of our country’s citizenry. And, despite our differences, it reveals what we do have in common -– our ability to make our dreams a reality.

Some of the vignettes will cause your sides to ache from laugher while others will bring a tear to your eye. Just to spotlight a very few, there’s the gospel singer who proclaims, “I’m a child of the King.” There’s the Appalachian woman who profoundly, and rather poetically, analyzes the human experience. There’s the father/son team who enter a marathon, the younger man suffering from ALS, the father professing, “I’m the legs, he’s the heart.” Then there’s the sculptor who collects junk, calling it “rusty gold” and finding love and respect through his art. There are the Salsa dancers who evidence the skill and interpretation of dance. And the blind mountain climber who has a grateful appreciation for what he has.

The documentary gives tribute to our religious beliefs, especially focusing on the Christian faith with its uplifting gospel music and several symbolic visuals. Other portions examine the eccentric, the inspiring and the emotional traits that make up the mutt-like pedigree that is uniquely American.

Funny, insightful, breathtaking, it’s everything you want from a movie. Best of all, it’s a wonderful example of how film can unite people. Despite all the negatives in today’s media concerning our country, this production gives a fresh, completely entertaining perspective on what makes America such a unique place and what makes Americans a special breed. Rated PG, I found nothing objectionable or exploitive. The intent of the filmmaker is to present a positive view of what America is and what it can become.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright