A Film ‘for the 80 Percent’

A young boy in a blue shirt and glasses plays chess with a slightly older boy
Project Fighting Chance, in San Bernardino, California, trains young people in boxing, chess, music, and more. It is one of the communities portrayed in "Our Towns." (Courtesy of Steven Ascher / HBO)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last night HBO aired its new documentary, Our Towns, which grew out of a long Atlantic series and later a book, as I described here yesterday. It has a number of upcoming screenings on HBO and is available for streaming on HBO Max.

Coinciding with the film’s debut, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, interviewed the film’s creators—Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher of West City Films—and Deb Fallows and me about what it was like to turn print reporting into a movie, and how the resulting theme and message matched the realities of an America that has been coping with pandemic, division, and polarization.

I think the results were very interesting. You can see them here:

Near the end of the session, Jeff Goldberg made a point that rings true to me. He said that this was a film and message “for the 80 percent.” That is, for the substantial majority of Americans who believe in possibility, in practicality, in reasonable paths forward. I hope you’ll hear the interview—and watch the film.