Doc of the Day: The Listening Project Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: The Listening Project

Posted in Days of Docs by - May 06, 2012

A film crew traveled the world asking non-Americans what they think of us. These are their answers.

Dir. Dominic Howes & Joel Weber, 2008, 78 min

At the core of The Listening Project is the best kind of idea: one that’s incredibly simple, yet brimming with potential. Unfortunately, that means that the film’s ultimate failure to follow through on that idea is all the more disappointing. The filmmakers seem to have trusted in the power that their idea had on its own, and make no effort to truly develop it, so that it can resonate.

The documentary follows Americans as they travel to different countries and ask average citizens what they think of us. They go to Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Russia, Israel, Palestine, and more. The answers they get are varied. Some people seem to wait only for the smallest impetus to go off about US arrogance, imperialism, etc. etc., while others have nothing but nice things to say. And everything in between.

But there are no great insights to glean here, and the movie is nothing more than a trivial curiosity. If some thought was put into the editing, then I couldn’t detect it. The movie jumps from country to country, from subject to subject, with absolutely no logic whatsoever. Every time it seems a good idea might be about to get going, the doc jumps to somewhere else and kills all momentum dead.

It would also help if the filmmakers actually consistently stuck to their conceit. Despite the title of the film, the interviewers interject themselves into conversations far too often. Topics of conversation sometimes veer away from things that have to do with America, especially when the film goes to Israel and Palestine. It’s not inherently wrong for a movie to “ramble,” but in this case, it’s absolute death to the audience’s interest level.

Anything good about The Listening Project began and ended with its conception. The filmmakers took a terrific idea and utterly bungled it. One valid point the movie continually makes is how little we Americans tend to think about the rest of the world, and how much we take our influence for granted. The documentary tries to intelligently explore this as a theme, but it’s little more than student-level work. But I still want so badly for someone else to do something great with this idea.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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