Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi's Reel America

The 'accidental' director discusses her latest HBO documentary, which follows brand-new American citizens

By Susan Chumsky
citizen usa movie image
Photograph: Illustration by Oliver Munday

Alexandra Pelosi says that ever since one of her “home movies” became an HBO documentary in 2002, “everything I’ve done has been accidental.” Journeys with George, shot on then-governor Bush’s campaign bus when she was off duty as a TV producer, led to six more HBO films—most recently Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip, which debuts July 4. But when Pelosi considers her films in succession, she’s surprised to realize “they’re a continuing conversation with myself.”

Journeys with George led her to cover the Democrats in the next election, resulting in Diary of a Political Tourist, which led her to consider a different kind of political power in Friends of God, about evangelical Christians. When that film’s featured preacher became embroiled in a sex scandal, she made The Trials of Ted Haggard. Next, HBO sent her back on the campaign trail to film Right America: Feeling Wronged, after which she tried to escape religion and politics with Homeless, about kids living in motels outside Disneyland.

Citizen U.S.A. is a cheery rejoinder to the gloom of Homeless: Dozens of brand-new citizens tell Pelosi, daughter of former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, why they love the U.S. Yet the interviews with these jubilant Americans manage to convey a subtext—the story told by a Mexican American subtly indicates that the country isn’t always welcoming. But the feel-good tone prevails, and some of the joy is personal: One of the film’s new Americans is Michiel Vos, Pelosi’s Dutch husband.

Want MORE? Check our interview with Last Night director Massy Tadjedin.

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First Published May 31, 2011

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