My background is in storytelling, and seeing kids go through this powerful year and come through transformed, in one way or another, was fascinating to us.

AC: We were there for a long time. I like the panoramic view that you get of the town. Where we do follow four main characters, but I like that you get to meet the cheerleading coach, who you could just make a movie about that guy.

We wanted people to feel the experience of living in a town like that, and we made an actual concerted effort. In the movie you never leave the town of Medora, and everything is told by the townspeople. We actually had interviews with professors, talking about school consolidation. We had a bunch of other interviews of people going a little bit wider, talking about these things. But at the end of the day, Davy and I just felt like, ‘Let’s just tell this story from the people that live there.’ I’m proud that we were able to communicate these people’s experience of living in a town like Medora. Because not many people live in a town of 500.

DR: We came to love Medora. Some of the kids there talk about how people in other towns will talk badly about Medora and what happens there. But even in the midst of this pretty economically depressed area, you see a community that really cares about its school and its kids and its identity, that really rallies around each other. If one person falls down, the rest of the town reaches out and tries to help them back up.

There’s great value in communities like Medora, and it’s a heartbreaking thing to see them continue to fade off the map. And Medora is really just a microcosm of what’s happening nationwide, because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Medoras all across the country.

There’s a moving sequence, late in the film, where one of the families is listening to a presidential address that mentions small-town hardships, and you intercut it with signs that Medora is struggling.
DR: That is a really nice sequence because it speaks to just how universal an issue this is.

AC: Exactly. And we didn’t plan on using that…But then, once you’d heard the speech, it was so eerie, because it was like he [President Obama] was talking to the town. You know, when he’s talking about the loss of manufacturing.

DR: To me, one of the political elements of the film that I’m happiest that we managed to include is [when] Logan Farmer [the Hornets’ power forward]’s mom talked about how she works in a factory and just how poor they are. I think there’s a misconception, or a misperception by a lot of Americans that if people are struggling, if they’re on welfare, it’s because they’re lazy, they don’t want to work. In Medora there’s no jobs. And if you’re lucky enough to be one of the few that has a job, what you’re paid is not really enough to feed a family or keep a roof over your head.

How long did you spend in Medora?
DR: We were there for like eight months, and that was the bulk of the shoot. And then we continued to go back for another year or more that followed. So all told, we shot for about two years. But what was really incredible was how willing people were to be open and to share personal and raw, emotional details of their lives with us.

I still think that when you approach people with genuine kindness, curiosity, and compassion, people are very eager to share their stories. They’re glad that somebody cares about what they think and what they’re experiencing in life. It’s not true of everybody. Some people took longer than others to arrive at that level of comfort. But for some kids and their families, they were incredibly open. I considered it all inconceivably generous how welcoming and how open they were.

Edirin Oputu is an assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu