A film by Courtney Stephens, Pacho Velez
2020, 70 minutes
No. 306

The American Sector explores the presence of the Berlin Wall in the United States: as an object, artifact, and supposed symbol of national values.

For 18 months Pacho Velez and Courtney Stephens traveled the US to document sections of the wall that are on display in over 75 locations, ranging from the serious (Fort Benning) to the bizarre (Main Street Station Casino in Las Vegas) and even the campus of nearby Capital University.

Along the way, interviews with unusual characters who own, maintain, and interact with pieces of the wall offer a window into American culture, and through the film these Cold War relics become a catalyst for exploring today’s timely issues.

Official Selection, Berlin Film Festival
Official Selection, San Francisco International Film Festival
Official Selection, AFI Fest
Official Selection, Human Rights Film Festival Zagreb
Official Selection, Maryland Film Festival

“An exemplary work of cinema as political action. A film that powerfully evokes the active presence of history in daily civic life—and reveals the politics that inhere in its commemoration. Yields extraordinary results through audacious methods…. The slabs of the Wall become something more than common ground for onscreen discussions: they function as truth devices, extracting deep-rooted and deeply personal observations as if with a metaphysical force that also energizes the camera and microphone, transforming discourse about the enduring power of history into seemingly physical, weighty incarnations of it.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Detached and incisive, wry and deceptively whimsical, The American Sector is a brisk lesson in how we often fail to learn from history because even the most concrete testimony is open to interpretation.” – Boston Globe

“Public art and political divisions, the sway of history, and the impulse toward freedom are inseparable elements in the doc’s richly nuanced palette … What might seem at first an inquiry into another nation’s story builds into a provocative illumination of all our histories, and of the here and now. Another wall — one that’s still more concept than reality and on many Americans’ minds — is alluded to and left to the viewer’s contemplation.” – Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter

“The film’s strengths lie in its simplicity. The shots are carefully composed and lingering, giving us a visual representation of the United States from Los Angeles’s Mulholland Drive to a Chicago subway station to a food court in Seattle. Furthermore, the thoughts of the subjects are captured with the ear of an ethnographer and edited for clarity and curiosity, which allows for moments of gravity as well as humor. For each person, the wall means something explicit about freedom, democracy, and patriotism, but implicit in these descriptions are ideas about propaganda, indoctrination, our intergenerational relationships with history, and the broken promises of capitalism.”  The Nation