Welcome to the All-America City Documentary from
Gary Olsen and Jim Barefoot!

The Movie Files:

54 Minute (Long) Version

  1. NEW! Special Windows Media File Format 53 Min Movie in Windows Media Player Format (Streaming) Super Clear and Spectacular Audio!
  2. NEW! Dubuque's Q&A and Award Ceremony (25 minutes)

34 Minute (Short) Version

  1. Windows Media Format of 34 Min Movie (Streaming) most compatible with largest percentage of PC and Mac platforms
  2. Special QuickTime Format for Mac of 34 Min Movie


Movie Trailer in QuickTime Format (Mac)

Movie Trailer in Windows Media Format (PC)

The Trailer in RealPlayer Format

e knew we were witnessing something truly unique, truly wonderful, truly American the moment the cameras started rolling on this project. All-America Cities. That's Jim Barefoot (microphone) and me, Gary Olsen wearing the Steadicam. Our cameras included the Sony Z1, and the JVC DV5000. We shot every frame on hard drives integrated into our camera's control systems.

We were in Anaheim, CA at the All-America City competition in June, a contest in which 20 finalist cities from across America perform for judges live on stage, and state their reasons why they should become one of 10 All-America Cities designated each year by the Nactional Civic League. So what's the big deal?

It has been called the Nobel Prize for cities, but it's actually a grass roots exercise in democracy sponsored by an organization going back 115 years. The National Civic League is like a trade organization among cities. However, their stock in trade is comprised of ideas and enterprises of democratic action.

Dubuque was among the 20 competing in Anaheim, and I was invited to film it. One thing lead to another, and I proposed I do a documentary of the entire affair. I reasoned, "Why not take advantage of this opportunity to delve into the lives of all 20 cities vying for this title, and learn what makes them tick?"

If I would just film our own people, what would we learn from that? Well, not as much. So I packed up the Steadicam, invited Jim Barefoot from Mediacom to come along and help me, and it turned out to be the best collaboration I've ever had. Jim is a gifted film maker in his own right, but his job at Mediacom doesn't give him the time to do such expansive projects. We've both been burning the midnight oil for several nights.

I learned so much from this event. I had no idea such a competition existed. Oh, I had seen the signs outside of cities I've visited. Those red, white and blue signs that look like a flag that declare this city is an "All-America City." I always wondered who sanctioned that brand? Well, now I know.

It can be a grueling process qualifying for this award. For one thing, you file a carefully written entry document, then, if you win that round, you must travel to wherever the National Civic League's annual convention is, and prepare to perform a 10 minute program based on your entry document.

The live program becomes a pageant, if you will, describing the projects and programs your community had embarked upon to enfranchise the disenfranchised, heal the sick, house the homeless, revitalize your decaying neighborhoods, and provide opportunities for collaboration and group problem solving. It's actually quite inspiring. Dubuque's three projects were the Crescent Health Center, Downtown Revitalization and America's River Project.

You know if I were a cynic, I would say some of the presentations I saw were corny, But I'm not cynical, and I actually found the whole affair life affirming. This was an earnest and well-meaning group of people. They were imbued with the spirit and can-do attitude that is typical of America.



Photos on this page are captured still frames from the movie. You can click on them to download the printable enlargement. Stay tuned to this website for the full length movie that will be posted soon.

Many of the communities were on the brink, staring into the abyss, and rather than wait for Washington to come up with a solution to their problems, they took it upon themselves to fight the influence of gangs, build new schools and community centers, health facilities, affordable housing, parks, gardens, overcome the ravages of natural disasters like floods and hurricanes.

Jim and I recorded about 15 hours of footage. I got interviews, candid moments, drama, and I captured plenty of comic situations. I knew instinctively as I was filming that this was something special, something I had not fully anticipated. I knew I was capturing precious golden moments that would make a great visual story.

When Jim and I returned from Anaheim, we went right to work cataloging our footage, and we were editing our masterpiece within days. We worked nights and weekends on the project for approximately 30 days, and the result was a 35 minute version of the movie for a business breakfast planned to motivate area businesses into promoting and using the logo. Following the premier of our movie, we got a standing ovation. Not bad for 8:30 in the morning.

We crafted two longer versions of the documentary, one 53 minutes and another even longer version 1 hour 43 minutes long. That one is more for the participants, but it is an in depth look at some of the other players in this competition.

Each city sends a delegation. Ours numbered 37 and was not the biggest, not the smallest. The most spectacular delegation had to be Laredo, TX.  They had about 30 people representing government, business, education, and on top of that they brought their high school marching band which, since this is a border town, is a 35 piece Mariachi "orchestra." 

They were decked out in black sombreros, slacks and vests with silver buttons and intricate brocade stitching. Their turquoise shirts and blouses were the pefect touch.  I never saw so many and varied guitars in one place that wasn't a music store. And could these kids play! Laredo loves its old world Mexican heritage. 


But Laredo has problems just like any rapidly growing city in America. Laredo is 165,000 people on the American side of the border and maybe a million and a half just across the river on the Mexican side.  There are now big walls and barbed wire along parts of the border. I visited Laredo back in the 1980s when I worked for John Deere. We had a proving grounds down there. I loved the city. You could walk back and forth across the border practically at will. Great restaurants on the Mexican side I recall. I was told that Laredo is the number one customs point for commerce in America these days since NAFTA... bigger than the coastal cities.  By the way... Laredo didn't win All America City this year. I was frankly a little surprised.

As personal movie projects go, this could be my Citizen Kane. So far, I can say that this is one of the most ambitious projects I've ever tackled. Thank goodness it happened when it did. I had a very busy summer going, but I still managed to carve out evening time to edit. Sometimes we were up till 2 AM. Jim's family was starting to wonder.

I couldn't be more proud of the results. It is everything I imagined it would be. It's got great pacing. More importantly, it gives us a glimpse into this fascinating world. I had no idea what was involved in qualifying for this award which a city can use to leverage great interest among travel and economic development publications, for example. Local businesses, too, can capitalize on this source of civic pride. The School District, incidentally, has included the All-America City logo in its front page website banner.

Someone asked me recently, "What would you have done if Dubuque had lost in Anaheim?" I considered that possibility, and in that case it still would have been a good movie. A sad ending, but not a waste of effort would have been the concluding message. There is redemption for those who worked so hard, and a lesson to be learned.

Nonetheless, I'm glad we won. -G.O.


Gary Olsen 2007 all rights reserved. All graphics and copy in this Web site are the intellectual property of Gary Olsen and/or his clients' property, used with permission, and cannot be used for any purpose without permission. Address correspondence to olsega@mchsi.com