Sarah Sellman grew up in a Bed and Breakfast in a desert valley in rural Alamosa, Colorado. Her experiences at the Bed and Breakfast made her a strange sort of six year old—she has always loved talking to strangers. Her experiences in Colorado fostered her need for adventure and her ability to tell stories. So she ventured off to New York City where she attended film school at NYU.
Sarah loves telling stories about people, textures and beautiful landscapes—sometimes with a hint of the surreal or fantastical and always about love and fortuity (her mother was always a fan of romantic comedies and her dad had her watching sci-fi since she could speak). American Bear turned Sarah’s hypothetical trust in all people to an actual one and has been one of the greatest learning experiences of her life. Sarah is detail oriented, texture obsessed and curious about everything. Oh, and she really likes pie. And Greg. And probably you!
About the film: American Bear: An Adventure In The Kindness Of Strangers is an inspiring exploration of our country through trust, fear, and hospitality, across America and between Americans. (From the film’s website at americanbearfilm.com)
Filmmakers: Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano
Her Film: Your first day’s interview subject talked about how you and Greg [Grano] are “living the American Dream.” (Seen in the trailer.) You actually kind of lived my personal dream by making this film! Can you describe the balance between being filmmakers who are making a documentary and actually having to experience intense emotions and varying situations as two of the subjects of your own film?
Sarah Sellman: It was an interesting balance to negotiate, that’s for sure. Every part of our journey we wanted to experience organically. We wanted to be adventurous! But we also had to be aware of making sure to film the experiences. The weirdest part I think was that often the camera added a lot of pressure. Pressure to act naturally, to be nicer to each other, to film each encounter well. Eventually Greg had a bit of a break down from all the stress (I might have, too, if he didn’t first) because it is stressful. The journey is amazing and perhaps a tad stressful on its own, but the second you start filming, it becomes much more challenging. In the end though, I think it’s worth it, because now we have a great film, and all of our memories are on tape! We did feel like we were living our dreams — especially because the idea of American Bear came from Greg talking in his sleep. America is a pretty cool place, and the people are amazingly generous!
HF: You talk on your website about your experiences, emotions, etc. What feelings did you experience that you hadn’t before, or that surprised you the most, either as an individual or as a filmmaker?
SS: Well — the emotions were much more complex. Connecting with people so quickly and then having to leave the next morning was often challenging. I wanted to get to know people better, to spend more time talking. Also, when we got into our car accident — that was a new emotion for sure. I was so in love with Greg and I felt so guilty because the car that hit us, hit him. Not me, him. If it had been any worse I probably would have been fine, and he might not have. In the end, no one was hurt. But it makes you think really hard about being in a car. And about the person you love.
But I think the biggest new feeling was trust and confidence. In people. We walked into American Bear with sort of hypothetical trust in humanity — and walked out of it with an actual one. I love people!
For a lot more photos, and to see the strangers that Sarah and Greg met on theirtravels, visit the American Bear website and check out the photos page.
HF: I have a close friend who is, without fail, always able to start and maintain a conversation with strangers and it awes me. Me, I love doing that, but it often ends with me hearing crickets. What have you found that it takes to create or find a connection with people? Did you ever have a bad experience that just didn’t work out at all, and how did you deal with that?
SS: You know what’s strange, since making American Bear I have developed a new kind of social anxiety. I think because connecting on the road was so easy and sometimes here it isn’t. The big thing for us is asking questions; people love to tell their stories and everyone has a story to tell. So if you ask questions, things seem so much easier. It’s more difficult for me, I think, to answer questions than it is to ask them. So my advice then — ask questions, be curious, even a little pushy. I think we are worried about people’s comfort zones a lot and it turns out that actually people like answering the harder questions. So maybe my problem after American Bear is mostly making sure I ask better questions?
In terms of bad experiences — yes, we had them. haha! A couple times we had people invite us to stay with them and then drop out at the last minute. That was challenging. Mostly because we didn’t find out till very late at night. Even if we had a back up plan, calling someone at 10pm to say, “hey, we actually do need help after all” — it can come off as a little scary. So in those times, communication was tricky and connection was even trickier.
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