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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

A special production under difficult corona conditions. Due to travel restrictions, we were only able to shoot two of the five episodes ourselves on location. The other episodes were realized from footage of local crews, zoom interviews, social media content and videos shot by the protagonists themselves. In this sense, an exciting, but not planned TV experiment.

The election year 2020 in the USA. One crisis hunts the next: coronavirus, racism, riots, crime – and all this against the background of a crumbling democracy and a deeply divided society. This long-term documentary follows ten Americans throughout the entire election year, people from both political camps, in the big city and in the village. How do mayors and cab drivers, pastors and pensioners, social workers and political activists go through this turbulent year? A captivating observation of everyday life in a historic year.

Episode 1: Big year, big dreams
At the beginning of 2020, no one can yet foresee the major upheavals that the year will bring. The main characters of the documentary series have big personal goals and dreams: A right-wing conservative student leader hopes to get a job in the White House, a social worker from the infamous South Side of Chicago wants to run for Congress, an illegal immigrant from India works as a driver in New York and dreams of big money and his own gas station.

Episode 2: The calm before the storm
In early March – just before the corona crisis hits the USA, America is already a divided country – even among evangelical Christians. They are among the Trump’s most loyal supporters, but a group of Evangelicals is traveling across the country by bus to convince people to vote against him this time. In a small Missouri town, however, another pastor drums for Trump – and rants against gays and abortion. A social worker in Chicago mobilizes all forces for the final spurt of her internal party candidacy for a seat in Congress.

Episode 3: On the brink of civil war
While public life in New York has already been brought to a standstill by Corona, and the dreams of an Indian immigrant are far away, a mayor in Pennsylvania is still busy with the challenges of his impoverished steel city – before he too has to distribute food to save his citizens from starvation. And in the middle of the pandemic, racist, lethal police violence and unrest are shaking the country. A liberal pastor mingles with the crowd – and tries in vain to mediate between demonstrators and police.

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
Only a few weeks before the presidential elections, the protagonists of our series review the turbulent year. Whatever the outcome of the election on November 3, the result will have a very concrete impact on their lives and their future. The corona crisis, the racial unrest, the weakening economy – none of the problems that the year 2020 has brought with it has been solved.

Review in ‘taz’ (German daily newspaper):

“Ameena Matthews has an American dream. The Muslim social worker from a problem neighbourhood in Chicago wants to do something to counter Trump’s policies. Her goal: to get into Congress for the Democrats. Will she make it?
Of course, you stay tuned to find out. You are already too close to the protagonists, the plot is too exciting to switch off now.
However, the content of “Aus der Traum?” was not written in a script factory, but shows reality. The Arte documentary tells the story of various Americans in the election year 2020. In five episodes, the audience gets an insight into the lives of Democrats and Republicans, Trump haters and admirers, rich people and dishwashers who will probably never make it to millionaire status.
The characters are as strong, authentic and idiosyncratic as if they had jumped straight out of the raw material for the secret new season of “House of Cards”.
There is the ultra-conservative poster girl, Isabel Brown, who distributes “Socialism sucks” stickers on the campus of her university in Colorado with her student organisation “Turning Point USA”. There is the evangelical pastor Doug Pagitt, who wants to use his tour bus to convince his flock across the US to vote against Trump. And there is his fellow pastor Charles Kaighen, who seems to think homosexuality and the Democrats alike are a punishment from God.
The documentary series shows fundamentally different people who, somewhere between election campaigns, polarisation, Corona and the death of George Floyd, fight for their cause, fail, celebrate successes, are angry. It offers numerous heroines and anti-heroines – but refrains from making this classification itself. Sympathy and dislike are close together.
As in any good series that wants to retain enough explosive power for a sequel, the end remains open in “Out of the Dream?” – at least until the result of the presidential election is known. But even after that, it will be worth watching the documentary. It can help to understand the USA better. A little bit, at least.”


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>> Episode 1
>> Episode 2
>> Episode 3
>> Episode 4
>> Episode 5