American Folk ★★★★½

Watched at the Seattle Film Festival under the title American Folk

In this affecting road-trip movie, Elliott (played by previously non-actor Joe Purdy) was a professional folk-singer, on his way the morning of 9/11/2001 by plane from L.A. to N.Y to play a gig, when the plane was turned back and all air traffic grounded. He had befriended his seatmate, Joni (Amber Rubarth), a youthful New Yorker on her way home to tend her sick mother; who then invited him to crash for the night at the Topanga Canyon house she had been staying at during her visit. By happenstance, the owner of the house had been storing an old hippie van for a New York friend; and the two stranded travelers set off in the van on a cross country drive. On the way Elliott learns that Joni was an accomplished singer herself; and they encounter a series of adventures that capsulized an America in transition, the drawing together of people in reaction to the events of 9/11. The result is a tender, lovely film, soaked in the traditions of folk music...a film that had me enthralled and often in tears, following along internally with the familiar tunes the characters were singing along the way. Of course, it just may be that I am the ideal, sentimental old codger that this film was designed to inspire. But I think there was more to the film than that: 25 years later, it's time to look back on that traumatic event in retrospect, to reflect on the changes to our society, and to help heal the wounds of that time. It's unfair to saddle a little American indie film with non-actors and no budget with such a heavy burden. But this unassuming film rose to the occasion. Watch for it. You won't be disappointed.