Aussie documaker Peter Hegedus literally puts himself on the psychiatrist’s couch in “My America,” a stimulating chronicle of his search for the America he loved while growing up in socialist Hungary and suburban Brisbane. Threading remarkable details of his family history into a globetrotting examination of U.S. foreign policy and domestic issues, Hegedus starts shakily but comes home strong with heartfelt messages about the rights of people everywhere to feel safe and secure. Presold to several Euro tube outlets, this fest- and pubcaster-worthy docu is set for a November theatrical engagement Down Under.
In voiceover narration and during consultations with psychiatrist Tom Singer, 33-year-old Hegedus says he now questions whether the United States is the global good guy he’s believed in since his youthful obsession with Hollywood action pics such as the “Rambo” franchise. Holding up Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ultimate example of the American Dream and dispenser of cinematic liberty and justice, Hegedus decides to request an audience with the then-governor of California (pic was made well before the recent scandalous revelations of Schwarzenegger’s extramarital affair and love child). Stopping first to interview locals in Schwarzenegger’s Austrian birthplace and seek advice from his “Red Heat” and “Total Recall” producer Andrew G. Vajna, Hegedus unsurprisingly hits a brick wall.
With early reels resembling a scratchy hybrid of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, the docu raises its game once Hegedus stops chasing Schwarzenegger and starts looking more deeply inward. The trigger is a visit to Hungary to meet his father, Jozsef, who spent little time with his son during childhood. Soon after Jozsef says his son should “grow up,” Hegedus reveals his grandfather was Andras Hegedus, the Hungarian prime minister who authorized Russian forces to stamp out the 1956 uprising.
Now carrying guilt for his grandfather’s actions, and seeking his father’s approval, Hegedus launches into a much more rewarding investigation of his relationship with America and the notion of freedom. Covering an enormous amount of ground, he kicks off with political and military reality checks from top-level observers including George Friedman, CEO of global intelligence gathering company Strategic Forecasts. Potently intercut with these comments are recordings of Somali refugees in Kenya and citizens of Iran whose testimony Hegedus has promised to deliver to President Obama.
On a poignant family note, Hegedus visits his sister, Dorka Hegedus-Lum, and her schoolteacher husband, Ken, who face a bleak future in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Far from taking a cheap shot by blaming the ills of the world on one nation, Hegedus emerges with mixed feelings about how contemporary realities relate to the films that shaped his image of the U.S. and its sphere of influence. His utter sincerity and openness to having long-held convictions challenged by everyone from Iranian political figures to U.S. military veterans is crucial in making the docu accessible to a wide audience.
Punctuated by snappy animations of the low-tech “South Park” variety, docu is well paced and technically polished.