The Great Experiment is both an intimate and sweeping cinematic portrait of America. Observed in two time periods, the film’s iterative process presents a unique time capsule of a nation grappling with its differences and diversity, and our experience and perceptions of conflict, survival and belonging.

The Great Experiment

by UnionDocs

  • $150,000.00

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  • $0.00

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  • 224

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, United States (US)

PROJECT SYNOPSIS:

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election results, Americans across the spectrum of race, gender, class, sexual identity and politics were scrambling to comprehend and prepare for the impacts of a Trump presidency. While some cheered, others braced for the impact of policies that would drastically alter the daily realities of American lives.

 

 
We questioned, like many in our documentary community, what we as non-fiction filmmakers could do during the beginning of such a seismic and historic shift for our country. We questioned how best to use the documentary form to decipher anticipated dangerous levels of polarization, the destabilization of democratic norms, as well as the mobilization of resistance to intolerance and racism.
 
To begin, we asked ourselves― what constitutes a historical moment? In lieu of a singular narrative of events, how can we fluidly engage our unfolding history with the widest possible vantage point to embrace the vast structural complexity of American experiences? If political rhetoric implicitly divides public opinion, can political or historical moments ever be viewed and discussed in a manner that increases tolerance and understanding, and allows for deeper insights into underlying dynamics? And as Americans grapple in real-time with immigration, gun control, racism, health care, climate change, gender equality, mental health and poverty, could we both widen our lens to create a panoramic portrait of this time while allowing the opportunity to question the very nature of how belief systems are built and perceived?

 

  
The Great Experiment is an unusual film in its ambition and formal approach. Consisting of two phases of filming, the first viscerally captures individuals navigating a four year period of political volatility and social fracturing in intimate cinema verité. The second phase films the same participants years later as they view and reflect upon the scenes and events of the first phase of filming.The two phases will be interwoven to create a decade long longitudinal portrait of the state of America’s experiment in democracy and the complex interplay of experience and perception.
The finished film will move through themes and issues that arose organically throughout the four years of production from 2017 – 2020. Notable references from the era like the travel ban, ICE raids, LGBTQ rights, George Floyd protests and Covid-19 will emerge not as arbitrary micro-histories, but as cascading and inter-related flashpoints of our uniquely American system in which individual humanity struggles to find belonging and value over property, capital and politics.
 
These conflicts and experiences coalesce around more timeless themes of alienation, identity, creativity and rebellion, as a more contemporary body politic teeters on the precipice between inclusion and invisibility, all during yet another unprecedented crisis of American existentialism.
 
 

 
OUR TEAM
 
Stephen Maing | Director, Producer, Editor
 

Stephen Maing is an Emmy-award winning director and cinematographer based in New York City. His most recent film UNION, which he directed, filmed and edited, is an immersive cinéma vérité account of the historic efforts by workers to unionize the first Amazon fulfillment center. UNION, co-directed with Brett Story, won a Special Jury Award for “The Art of Change” at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. His feature documentary CRIME + PUNISHMENT which he directed, filmed and edited over four years, won a 2018 Sundance Special Jury Award, an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Social Issue Documentary” and was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. His previous films including HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE, which he filmed over five years in mainland China, DIRTY GOLD, filmed in Peru’s Amazon rainforest and THE SURRENDER, have screened internationally and were released on P.O.V., Netflix and Field of Vision, respectively.

Maing’s films seek to expand the aesthetic form and limits of longitudinal nonfiction filmmaking. They are cinematic investigations of societal phenomenon, complex power structures and the fascinating individuals who challenge them. One of his upcoming films, THE GREAT EXPERIMENT, is an ambitious cinematic time capsule of one of the most volatile and perplexing eras of American history & identity. Maing is a Sundance Institute Fellow, a United States Artists Fellow, an NBC Original Voices Fellow and a recipient of the International Documentary Association’s prestigious Courage Under Fire Award. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a frequent visiting artist and long-time collaborator with underground music group 75 Dollar Bill. He lives in Ridgewood, Queens with his partner and young daughter.

 

Eric Daniel Metzgar | Director, Producer, Editor

Eric Daniel Metzgar is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker based in San Francisco, California. He is a two-time Sundance Documentary Lab Fellow. He directed, shot and edited Reporter about New York Times journalist Nichoas Kristof’s trip through the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, aired on HBO, and was nominated for an Emmy Award and Cinema for Peace’s International Film Award. Metzgar also directed, shot and edited Life. Support. Music. (POV, 2008) and The Chances of the World Changing (POV, 2006), which was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Metzgar also edited and produced Crime+Punishment (Emmy Winner, Sundance, Hulu), and edited Give Up Tomorrow (Emmy-nominated, POV) and Almost Sunrise SUNRISE (Emmy-nominated, POV). For the last five years, Metzgar has taught Buddhist meditation in Deuel Vocational Institution, a maximum security prison in California, as well as mentoring inmates in San Quentin Prison’s journalism program. Metzgar and his wife, a musician, have two young children.

 
Farihah Zaman | Producer
 
Farihah Zaman is a Bangladeshi-American filmmaker, critic, and curator; her first feature is the award-winning documentary Remote Area Medical, followed by second feature This Time Next Year (2014 Tribeca Film Festival) and the doc-fiction hybrid Feast of the Epiphany (BAMcinemafest 2018), as well as several shorts (Kombit, Nobody Loves Me, American Carnage, and the New York Times Op-Doc To Be Queen). She produced the Sundance-award winning Netflix Original, Ghosts of Sugar Land, which was shortlisted for 2020 Academy Award nomination. Zaman has written for Reverse Shot, Film Comment, Elle, Huffington Post, Filmmaker Magazine, and AV Club, among others, and her diverse background in the film industry includes roles at independent distributor Magnolia Pictures, IFP, The Flaherty Seminar, and serving as the Production Manager for Field of Vision (founded by Laura Poitras and Charlotte Cook), where she worked with artists like Marshall Curry, Garrett Bradley, Lyric Cabral, Josh Begley, Ramell Ross, and Brett Story on films eventually published at The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Buzzfeed, Vice, Wired and more. She was the Documentarian in Residence at Bard College 2018-2019.
 

 
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