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Jan Tenhaven

By Jan Tenhaven

On 13, Oct 2020 | In | By Jan Tenhaven


5 x 52 minutes | Documentary series | ZDF/Arte |  Full crew list

Directors: Jan Tenhaven (part 1+3), Jens Strohschnieder (part 2+4), Katja Döhne (part 5)
Head writer: Jan Tenhaven

This unique production was undertaken amidst challenging COVID-19 conditions. Due to travel restrictions, we could only film two out of the five episodes on location ourselves. The remaining episodes were crafted using footage from local crews, Zoom interviews, social media content, and videos captured by the protagonists. This unexpectedly became an exhilarating TV experiment, albeit not originally planned.

The year 2020 in the USA was an election year marked by a series of crises: the coronavirus pandemic, issues of racism, riots, and rising crime rates. All of this occurred against the backdrop of a democracy facing challenges and a deeply divided society. This long-term documentary follows ten Americans throughout the entire election year, representing both political camps and hailing from both urban and rural settings. It delves into the experiences of mayors and cab drivers, pastors and pensioners, social workers, and political activists, shedding light on how they navigated this tumultuous year. It offers a captivating observation of everyday life during a historic year.

Episode 1: Big year, big dreams

At the outset of 2020, nobody could anticipate the significant upheavals the year would unfold. The protagonists of the documentary series harbor substantial personal aspirations and dreams. A right-wing conservative student leader aspires to secure a job within the White House. A social worker from the notorious South Side of Chicago aspires to run for Congress. An undocumented immigrant from India works as a driver in New York, dreaming of substantial wealth and owning his own gas station.

Episode 2: The calm before the storm
In early March, just before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the USA, America was already a divided nation—this division extending even among evangelical Christians. They stand as some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, yet a faction of Evangelicals embarked on a cross-country bus journey to persuade people to vote against him this time. In a small Missouri town, however, another pastor passionately advocates for Trump, vehemently expressing his views against the LGBTQ+ community and abortion. Simultaneously, a dedicated social worker in Chicago mobilizes all available resources for the final push in her bid for a party nomination to secure a seat in Congress.

Episode 3: On the brink of civil war
As public life in New York ground to a halt due to the pandemic, the aspirations of an Indian immigrant seemed distant. Meanwhile, a mayor in Pennsylvania remained tirelessly engaged with the struggles of his economically deprived steel city. He worked diligently until the point where he, too, had to organize food distribution to prevent his citizens from succumbing to starvation. Concurrently, amidst the pandemic, the nation was rocked by instances of racist, fatal police violence and ensuing unrest. In the midst of this turmoil, a liberal pastor attempted to mediate between the demonstrators and the police, albeit with little success.

Episode 4: The breaking test
Summer 2020 – less than 100 days to go until the US elections. A wave of unrest and rising crime shakes the country. July was the month with the most gun purchases in the history of the USA. The mayor of a small town tries to get the shootings under control. A conservative pastor drums for Trump. A Muslim social worker tries to dissuade young people from buying guns, a right-wing conservative student leader fights for her career, and a cab driver unexpectedly gets closer to his dream of owning his own gas station despite Corona.

Episode 5: Before the decision
Summer 2020 — with less than 100 days until the US elections — witnessed a wave of unrest and escalating crime that shook the nation. July saw the highest number of gun purchases in the history of the USA. In the midst of this, the mayor of a small town worked tirelessly to bring the shootings under control. Meanwhile, a conservative pastor fervently supported Trump, advocating for his re-election. On a different front, a Muslim social worker dedicated her efforts to dissuading young people from purchasing guns. Additionally, a right-wing conservative student leader fought for her career, and an unexpected turn of events brought a cab driver closer to his dream of owning his own gas station, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.


Review in ‘taz’ (German daily newspaper):

“Ameena Matthews has an American dream. The Muslim social worker hailing from a troubled neighborhood in Chicago aims to counter Trump’s policies. Her objective: to secure a seat in Congress as a Democrat. Will she succeed?

Of course, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out. You’re already too invested in the protagonists, and the plot is far too thrilling to switch off at this point.

However, the content of ‘Aus der Traum?’ was not crafted in a script factory; it depicts reality. The Arte documentary recounts the tales of various Americans during the election year of 2020. Over five episodes, the audience gains insight into the lives of Democrats and Republicans, Trump critics and admirers, affluent individuals, and dishwashers who likely won’t attain millionaire status.

The characters are as strong, authentic, and idiosyncratic as if they’ve leaped right out of the raw material for the undisclosed new season of ‘House of Cards.’

There’s the ultra-conservative poster girl, Isabel Brown, who distributes ‘Socialism sucks’ stickers on her university campus in Colorado through her student organization ‘Turning Point USA.’ Then there’s evangelical pastor Doug Pagitt, utilizing his tour bus to persuade his flock across the US to vote against Trump. Finally, there’s his fellow pastor, Charles Kaighen, who appears to equate homosexuality and the Democrats as punishments from God.

The documentary series presents fundamentally different individuals who, amid election campaigns, polarization, the pandemic, and the death of George Floyd, battle for their causes, face failures, celebrate successes, and experience anger. It introduces numerous heroines and anti-heroines, but refrains from imposing these classifications itself. Sympathy and antipathy are closely intertwined.

Just like any excellent series striving to retain enough explosive power for a sequel, the ending remains open in ‘Out of the Dream?’ — at least until the results of the presidential election are revealed. Even afterward, the documentary will remain worth watching. It aids in gaining a better understanding of the USA — at least to some extent.”


Watch all episodes (English version)