Year: 2021
Country: USA
Director: James Benning
Genre: documentary
Runtime: 103 min.
Age: 16+
James Benning’s first film called The United States of America was a 1975 trip across the country, capturing its scenery through a car windshield. This second one also crisscrosses the nation, but without a car, carving it up instead into a series of static shots of just under two minutes, one for each state, presented alphabetically, from Heron Bay, Alabama to Kelly, Wyoming. 

The names of the places are nondescript, but the images attached to them are anything but, immaculately composed shots of landscape, cityscape and the spaces in between. As we move from A to Z, the images coalesce into a portrait of today’s USA, tracing out its fault lines almost in passing: fenced-off facilities, a river bed running dry, factories and refineries, run-down streets and gas stations, a camp under a bridge. The past is there too, seeping up through the songs and speeches that sporadically pierce the background noise or the motifs that evoke a whole career; the clouds, trains and cabins are stand-ins for films, not just states. As always, there’s time for more abstract thoughts too: each image may stand for a state, but representativity is slippery. Which state is more cinematic than the rest?

Awards & Festivals:

Berlin International Film FestivalNominee: Berlinale Documentary Award, Nominee: Caligari Film Award
Cinéma du Réel Award, NomineeInternational Competition James Benning