On January 20, the same day that Donald Trump was sworn in as President, Richard Cahan boarded an Amtrak train for a cross-country sojourn from Washington D.C. to northern California. Cahan, a Chicago-based journalist and photographer, brought with him a recorder and a camera, interviewing fellow train travelers and filming America as it passed by his window.
He asked his subjects two questions each: “Where are you going?” and “Where is America going?”
The footage and interviews he recorded—on two trains, the Capitol Limited (D.C. to Chicago) and the California Zephyr (Chicago to Emeryville, California)—form the basis of a 13-minute documentary called Cross-Country that he’s premiering here on Chicago’s website.
“It’s a really momentous time in America, and I wanted to document it,” says Cahan. “I was interested in talking to a cross-section of people.”
Among the 13 featured in the film are a Mennonite woman from southern Illinois, a school teacher from western Colorado, a stand-up comedian from Cleveland, and a musician from central Illinois whose original song “The Storm” plays over the film’s final minute. “We’re divided into red states and blue states, but one thing I found is that life is so much more complicated than that,” says Cahan. “Ultimately, though, America is the star of the trip. I was overcome by its largeness and beauty.”
Inspired by Paul Fusco’s book RFK Funeral Train, a collection of photographs chronicling the funeral procession of Robert Kennedy, Cross-Country paints a panorama in brief—a catalogue of a country in flux and the landscape encompassed by it.