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Friday, July 1, 2011

Alexandra Pelosi Talks to SF Weekly About Her New Film, Citizen U.S.A

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM

The other Pelosi's take on immigration - TAYLOR FRIEDMAN
  • Taylor Friedman
  • The other Pelosi's take on immigration

Documentarian Alexandra Pelosi -- yes, that Pelosi -- has doled out heaps of patriotism in her latest film and companion book, Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip. So much so, we imagine former naysayers will go out to buy American flags for their front yards after they watch the HBO premiere, which airs on the Fourth of July.

Pelosi first made a splash with Journeys with George -- an up-close-and-personal look at George W. Bush on the campaign trail in 2000. Her disarming personality won him over, and their unlikely friendship allowed her to capture some rather intimate moments -- including close-ups of him munching on Cheetos and goading her about a crush. Ultimately, the documentary showcased Pelosi's ability to humanize someone who isn't universally popular.

In Citizen U.S.A., she again makes us think twice about another divisive topic: immigration. This time, Pelosi didn't have to leave home to find her muse. Her Dutch-born husband, Michiel Vos, decided that he no longer wanted to be the odd one out in an otherwise American family. The film opens with his swearing-in ceremony before Pelosi takes off on a whirlwind journey across the country to watch others gain citizenship status and ask why they wanted to be Americans.

And though Pelosi somehow made it through 50 states without a single luggage mishap, her good fortune finally gave out on her just hours before the documentary's final screening Thursday night at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, with her mother and our congressional leader, Nancy Pelosi, in attendance. In between trying to find a dress at the last minute, the San Francisco native found time to sit down with SF Weekly to talk about her film at the HBO studios in downtown.

After watching the film, I can't get "God Bless the USA" out of my head. Are you having the same problem?
I'm sorry. It's been on a loop in my head for about a year. And you know what? That guy [writer, singer Lee Greenwood] is so rich. We had to pay so much money ... like 40 grand. And imagine how many people use that song.

How long did it take to visit all 50 states?
A year. I actually could prove it. At HBO, for travel, we have something called a travel grid. I have it in my house. It's more important than the Emmys, because it shows getting to 50 states with two kids. The logistics of that were insane.

Which naturalization ceremonies were the most memorable?
They had one at the Mall of America. It was good. They had one at the circus. They had one at a baseball stadium ... a lot of baseball stadiums. They had one at WrestleMania. I got to go to the Indy 500, because one of the new American citizens went. He was a French racecar driver, and he drove me in his car. Don't ever do it. It gets you so sick. It looks like it would be fun, but it's not. Vertigo.

In Arizona, you encountered people protesting the state's immigration laws. That was the only time the documentary showed the stickier side of immigration.
It was outside. I was trying to avoid the immigration fight. This movie is about citizenship. It's not about immigration. Two different subjects. People who want to watch an immigration film are going to be very disappointed. They should not watch. It's about the people who come in legally and go through the process the right way. Not that there's anything wrong with coming illegally. Just, that's not the movie I was making.

But you still included one guy who compared Arizona's immigration laws to Nazi Germany. How come?
I just wanted to make it clear -- "Don't be naive." Not everyone gets to stay. This is a rosy, patriotic valentine to America. Not everybody feels that way, and he hints at that. The laws are very arbitrary -- who gets to stay and who doesn't. And every election, you hear the politicians talking about comprehensive immigration reform, and it never happens. The system is totally broken. That's a whole 'nother movie. This is just a nice Fourth of July special. It's not an immigration manifesto.

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