Four years ago, Syracuse residents Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano embarked on 60-day road trip across the U.S. to film their documentary, American Bear: An Adventure in the Kindness of Strangers. This week, they are returning to the Salt city for a weeklong series of events, which will include screenings and discussions. Syracuse is one of the couple’s longest stops as part of a six-month national tour.
They formed the idea for the film when Grano mumbled, “We have to go to Bear, Colorado,” several times in his sleep, waking up his fiancé Sellman. Although Bear, Colo. does not exist, they discovered five other Bears in Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas and Delaware. The route formed a horseshoe, becoming a blue print for their trip across the U.S. Along the way, they made spontaneous stops to 30 cities, driving an average of three hours per day.
The couple stopped mostly in small towns and would approach strangers by asking for an interview. When they agreed, Sellman and Grano asked them questions about their town and if they would help them with their project. They wanted to see if strangers would take a chance on the couple, allowing them to sleep in their homes for each night. Sellman says their film explores the kindness of strangers in the U.S.
“It’s a project of hope,” says Sellman. “We hope it will further conversation about why people were willing to help us, so that the next time they see someone in need, they are more willing to help them.” She describes the social experiment as a positive experience.”People were really open with us,” she says. To the couple’s surprise, many strangers told them intimate details about their lives.
However, some days they were not as successful; They slept in their car four times when everyone they asked had declined. “We talked to 84 people in Las Vegas and no one wanted to help,” Sellman says.
Beyond the surface-level, “feel-good” meaning of the film, Sellman and Grano say they also hope it will spark a dialogue about how people can make quick judgments about others. “We want viewers will think more critically about how they interact with strangers,” Grano says.
They will screen the film and episodes of their web series, BEAR Bones, in several locations throughout the city this week. “We’re locals—and we love when people refer to us as local filmmakers. We can’t wait to share it with everyone,” says Grano.
Check out this week’s events:
Tuesday, Sept. 23: The Near Westside Initiative will host a discussion with the filmmakers at SALTQuarters, 115 Otisco St., at 5:30 p.m. Then, at 7:30 p.m., join the Redhouse Arts Center, 201 S. West St., for a screening and a Q&A after the film. Tickets are available for $8 online or at the door.
Wednesday, Sept. 24: As part of the Urban Video Project, the Everson Museum of Art will screen the documentary on the side of the building at 8 p.m. This sunset screening is free and chairs will be provided.
Thursday, Sept. 25: Syracuse University’s University Union will sponsor a screening followed by a Q&A, in Gifford Auditorium in Huntington Beard Crouse Hall. This event starts at 7 p.m. is open to the public.