Film will focus on finding unity amid political discord –
By Patricia Beech –
Former Warner Brothers Television executive Trent Jones recently visited Adams County to interview several people from the Peebles area for an upcoming documentary that examines how current political discord has created deep division in America’s middle class.
Jones, who grew up in the Peebles area, was Vice-President in charge of prime time series at Warner Brothers Television in Los Angeles. He admits he was surprised by the social media posts from his hometown during the election. “A lot of my friends from Peebles were on Facebook and I was seeing some pretty heated back and forth posts, and some pretty serious name calling.”
A conversation with a close friend from Los Angeles convinced him he should return to Adams County to further explore the divisive affect the election was having in his home town and across the American landscape.
“After the election, my friend, who is a very successful TV show writer, posted a comment on Facebook saying ‘I don’t know anything about the people who voted for him (Trump) in that part of the country.” Jones said. “He was surprised when I told him I’d grown up in a small town in Ohio, and after telling him a little about it he said ‘you should tell that story’. So he planted the seed, and I decided to explore the possibility of making a documentary about what was happening across America from the viewpoint of my home town.”
A subsequent conversation with another friend convinced him that his past and present lives made him uniquely qualified to tell the story of the growing rift between those who supported President Trump and those who supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I was having dinner with a friend who is an actor, producer, and director and he asked me if I had read the book Hillbilly Elegy, and I told him ‘I could have written it myself’.” Jones explains that as a young man pursuing his dream to be a filmmaker, he had to deal with the skepticism of those who believed it was a goal beyond the reach of a boy from southern Ohio.
“I had an uncle who lived in Phoenix who was originally from New Boston, and he was kind of an opinionated guy. When I told him what I was going to do he said, ‘You gotta’ know that they’re not going to let a hillbilly into Hollywood.”
Jones was undeterred by his uncle’s lack of faith. He enrolled in film school at USC and began the hard work of turning his dreamy realization into a realized dream.
Now a successful independent writer and producer, Jones says his decision to commit to the documentary was motivated, not by a desire to change people’s minds, but by the need to find unity in their stories.
“I’m doing this,” he says, because I think people’s stories are important. Everyone has a story, and especially in times of conflict it’s important to hear stories from both sides”
Returning to his home town, Jones was surprised to learn that most of the people he interviewed for the upcoming documentary believed they had little in common with him and others who live in America’s large coastal cities.
“Everyone in Adams County talks about the church community here, and how if someone is in need the church comes to their aid – the same thing is true in my town – the parish that we’re in, if someone’s sick we have meal plans and we deliver food to them – it’s just not that different,” he says. “Granted it’s a bigger place, but our community is not the whole span of Los Angeles, it’s built around our church and our school – same as here – we have a school community, and parents become friends when their kids are in kindergarten and remain friends in the coming years.”
Those false perceptions of differences, Jones says, informed the focus of his documentary.
“The idea that we isolate ourselves from one another illuminated for me the idea of ‘the other'”, he said. “Growing up here we used to tell jokes about dumb Kentuckians – now that kind of thing is happening nationally on a much greater scale, and I felt there needed to be some examination of that. Not that I could come back here and capture it all, but I believed if I could talk to the right people it would educate me as well.”
The imagined differences people create to separate themselves from one another has been an ongoing interest of Jones’s for several years, and was the topic of a movie script he wrote and sold to Mace Neufeld – a veteran film and television producer who oversaw a string of Hollywood blockbusters adapted from Tom Clancy novels including “Patriot Games”, “Clear and Present Danger”, “The Sum of all Fears”, and the Clint Eastwood-directed “Invictus”.
“After 9-11 I was watching Pakastani kids on television burning American flags, and I thought to myself what do they know about America except for what they’ve been told, and so I set out to find a story in the world where I could convey the idea of putting people on opposite sides of a conflict – where because of what you’re being told you’re learning to hate, and resist, and fight.”
Jones chose Northern Ireland, which had suffered through decades of violent political unrest, as the setting for his movie script. He visited the country’s capitol, Belfast, where a friend introduced him to the head of the Protestant para- military group the Red Hand Commando which was credited with the murders of 569 Catholics during the years of violence.
“I sat with him, and I looked at him, and I thought you could be one of my uncles, I mean, just physically in appearance, we were of the same ilk, the same Scotch Irish heritage, and he said to me ‘all those years of bloodshed, all those years of conflict, we ended up exactly where we would have gotten had we done it peacefully’, and I asked him what stopped the violence, and he said, ‘we stopped for the sake of our children and our grandchildren – we recognized they were more important than what our polictical differences might be – now, none of us have all we wanted, we had to compromise for the sake of peace’.”
The confluence of his years of research in Northern Ireland and the 2016 presidential election, along with the vitriol commentary on Facebook, Jones says not only confirmed his decision to make the documentary, but also shaped the basic premise of the film – that deep down most people want peace and unity.
“The voices on the extremes – on both sides are the loudest, and they’re the ones that seem to be amping up the tenor of the overall conversation,” says Jones, “But I believed all through the election that there were people in the middle who are not divided by who voted for Clinton and who voted for Trump, they are like myself and others who grew up here with a certain set of values who may have changed the way they look at certain things, including politics, but at the core we were taught to be decent people, to be respectful people, to work for what’s good for yourself and your community, and that common ground to me is what will help us hold things together – as divisive as things might get going forward in the public discourse.”
He admits he didn’t expect to find the wide range of opinions and view points he’s uncovered during his interviews.
“From one extreme to the other, and in the middle, what I have consistently found here is an understanding that we may really disagree, but we have to be respectful, we have to live in this place together,” he says. “Everything we’re getting here is not only informing me of things I’d forgotten, but I believe it is going to inform the people who encouraged me to do this in the first place – the people who genuinely want to understand how people here feel and think.”
Standing outside the Murphin Ridge Inn while his camera crew sets up for an interview, Jones marvels at the beauty of the landscape stretching across the ridge beneath the gray January sky.
“My friend from Northern Ireland says we all have a story, and we tell ourselves a certain story about ourselves and about the world,” he pauses. “We all have to find a way to tell a better story. I think that’s really what drives me as a writer and in producing this idea– let’s tell a better story.”
As if on cue, the sun broke through the heavy gray cloud cover and lit the flaxen- colored fields with a warm glow.
“Would you look at that?” Jones said, “Isn’t that just incredible.?”
(Part One of this story can be found in the Jan. 25 issue of The People’s Defender.)