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Parallel Lines

New Yorker Nina Davenport was in the middle of work on someone else's film project in San Diego when 9/11 hit. Afraid to fly, and needing some time to let things sink in before arriving home -- her apartment looked onto the World Trade Center -- she decided to drive cross-country, sticking to backroads and interviewing folk along the way. Resulting "Parallel Lines" is an docu that proves there's heart left in the American Heartland.

New Yorker Nina Davenport was in the middle of work on someone else’s film project in San Diego when 9/11 hit. Afraid to fly, and needing some time to let things sink in before arriving home — her apartment looked directly onto the World Trade Center — she decided to drive cross-country, sticking to backroads and interviewing ordinary folk along the way. Resulting “Parallel Lines” is an affecting personal documentary that proves there’s still some heart left in the American Heartland. Select telecast sales are signaled.

Davenport detours to a few spots of relevance — a museum in Los Alamos (where she meets an elderly couple who worked on the Manhattan Project), Waco, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the Pentagon, finally NYC Ground Zero — but mostly she’s drawn toward nondescript locales and chance encounters.

Most people are open, sharing their own tales of personal loss and trial, expressing a wider range of political opinion than one might expect amid the post-9/11 mood of public patriotism.

Without promulgating an agenda, a portrait emerges of a fallibly human populace including retirees, veterans, lonely singles, and folks struggling financially — precisely those usually absent from media portrayal.

Rugged individuality survives in eccentric personalities like the philosophical female reverend at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, middle-aged hippie types living in the woods near Santa Fe, and a grizzled cancer-scarred cowboy who tells Davenport, “I liked you as soon as you were gonna have a beer with me in the mornin’.”

The conciliatory mood is capped when one man target-shooting in Ohio says his father abandoned him as a child. Asked why he’s so forgiving about that, he says, “Anger destroys the container it’s kept in.”

Pic’s only real negative note is sounded by an Alabama father-and-son farmer duo spouting racist doggerel.

Landing in Gotham just in time for the New Year’s Eve ball-drop in Times Square, and a cautious first approach to the WTC wreckage, Davenport wisely keeps an empathetic, community-oriented focus on other people throughout.

She’s on-screen a fair amount, as she was in prior first-person docus “Hello Photo” and “Always a Bridesmaid.” There are a few too many views of her looking pensive behind the wheel, but for the most part, “Parallel Lines” avoids any whiff of vanity project.

Consistently engaging, often poignant pic is well shot by verite standards, and very well edited. Aptly low-key musical score features primarily acoustic guitar.

Parallel Lines

Production: A Nina Davenport production in association with BBC, TV Ontario, YLE and TVE2 Enterprises. Produced, directed, edited by Nina Davenport.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Davenport; music, Sheldon Mirowitz; sound editor, Dave Ellinwood. Reviewed at San Francisco Doc Fest, May 15, 2004. Running time: 98 MIN.

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