An Imagined Country takes as its starting point some fragmentary images, and a story, that continue to haunt me.
A defining feature of my childhood, the stories about my father’s early life were often used as weapons in the brittle and corrosive relationship between my parents. Central to this is the apocryphal story of my father, aged 17, walking out of his home, in Maryport, Cumberland, to buy cigarettes for my grandfather, and returning 17 years later, having spent the intervening time travelling across America.
Teresa Cairns, a Life Historian, and I will travel across the USA retracing what I know of my father’s journeys. We want to trace the fragments of my father’s autobiography, against the echoes of the economic boom and downturn of 20th century America, that are told through individuals’ stories about negotiating the current economic crisis in contemporary America.
In the early 20th century my father traversed a country that was beginning to impose immigration quotas, to close borders. He travelled during a time of prosperity, as well as economic collapse. It is these strands and echoes we want to engage with.
A central concern is the conflict between truth and fiction; it is a dialogue between the real and the imagined, and the role stories play in defining the family narrative. ‘Truth’ in the form of evidence, if available at all, is almost always subject to interpretation. Our interests lie in the broader context of working with life narratives: the idea of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ as boundaries filtered through memory and experience, landscape and locality as markers of identity, all drawing on the richness of the ordinary and everyday.
We intend to post comments, reflections, encounters, as well as video clips of this journey on our project website. One outcome will be a screening during CineCity, Brighton Film Festival (UK) in November, but central to this project is the website as a space to reflect on what we encounter. It will be a diary detailing, amongst other things, the joys and frustrations of the film making process, and is intended as a forum for dialogue as our journey progresses.