Last summer, the producers of This Hour Has 22 Minutes sent the show's man-on-the-street Nathan Fielder to the US to make a documentary about the presidential election. He got as far as Virginia. And although Love and Cameras in America features a brief encounter between Fielder and then-candidate Barack Obama, the movie has very little to do with the election, and everything to do with Fielder's attempts to forge relationships with strangers. Fielder recently left This Hour and Halifax to write for Comedy Central's Important Things with Demetri Martin. Over the phone from his new home in Los Angeles, he says the project began as a bit of a gamble.
"[Executive producer] Michael Donovan had this weird confidence in my ability to just go out and do something," he says. "I told him right away that I didn't know what I was doing. I had never done anything over five or six minutes, and this was unscripted and had to be an hour and a half. It was so daunting. I was overwhelmed."
The film opens with Fielder interviewing people on the street about the election in the deadpan manner that This Hour viewers will probably recognize. However, the process makes him increasingly uneasy, and he turns his focus away from politics and onto a few subjects who have caught his interest. These include Melissa, a CutCo knife salesperson, Daniel, a gawky 20-year-old community college student, and most significantly, a charming aspiring actor named Ashley.
As Fielder gets to know them better, the camera's watchful eye captures it all---from awkward pauses to moments riddled with unspoken meaning. And unlike many documentaries helmed by comedians or social satirists, there is no winking at the camera or sly attempts at mockery. Love and Cameras in America feels surprisingly genuine.
"I didn't want to put up too much of a facade," Fielder says. "It's such a turnoff for the audience. I didn't want to make this classic documentary where you latch onto the weirdest and most outspoken people. I wanted to make a more traditional film, with real people."
Fielder did encounter his fair share of quirky types looking for camera time, including a "political image consultant" who lectured him on his lack of propriety, and a political song-and-dance comic who brought a script he'd written for Fielder to follow during their "interview."
"People make weird choices," Fielder says of the comedian. "I found the stuff I tried to plan in the film ended up seeming that way---planned. The stuff that just happened out of nowhere was what I liked best."
More ambiguous is the relationship between Fielder and the actor, Ashley. Their casual, meandering conversations seem to evolve into friendship and quitepossibly a mutual attraction---or was Ashley simply taking advantage of an easy opportunity to appear on camera? A year later, Fielder says he still isn't sure.
"I felt vulnerable around her, and I thought that would be interesting," he says. "I don't usually feel that way around people. I felt it was a very natural progression of how a guy and a girl slowly get to know each other. Maybe it's romantic, and maybe it's not."
It's hard to predict how audiences will take Love and Cameras in America when it screens at AFF this year.
Fielder says he knows people might be expecting something like Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans. "I just don't know how you could sustain something like that," he says. "I'm glad I could go out there and do something totally different from anything else I've done. I just want to keep doing a variety of things forever."