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Sullivan County ‘strangers’ help launch documentary

Filming in Roscoe, NY.

January 12, 2012

ROSCOE, NY — What would you do if two total strangers came into your town, approached you on the street, began asking questions about the place where you live and then said they were looking for a night’s lodging?

That’s what Sarah Sellman, now 22, and Greg Grano, 21, did when they embarked on a journey in June 2010 to explore trust, fear and hospitality across America and between Americans. The initiative provided the basic framework for the film which they are now trying to finalize, “American Bear: An Adventure in the Kindness of Strangers.”

In the summer of 2010, armed with little but curiosity and a camera, Sellman and Grano traveled the country relying on the kindness of strangers for a home each night. Every day they were in a new town, meeting new people, and hoping that someone would be generous enough to open their home to two young strangers.

“I was expecting people to be more nervous than they were,” said Sarah. “But we’re both a little chubby, with curly hair and dimples, and we’re non-threatening, which helped. And we focused on learning about them. People want to talk; they want to share their deepest stories and be heard.”

As fate would have it

It all began a year earlier, when Greg spoke out in his sleep, saying “We have to go to Bear, Colorado!” After discovering that Bear, CO doesn’t exist, the couple instead defined a loop which included visits to five places named Bear in America. The trip would take them through 30 states, where they spoke with 711 people and were provided lodging for all but four of the nights.

Sellman and Grano spent the first day of their journey exploring Roscoe and meeting folks who now appear in the film’s trailer. Allowing fate to unfurl their course, they landed in Roscoe following a Google search meant to take them roughly four hours from their home base in Morristown, NJ toward the first “Bear” in Washington.

That night, they were hosted by Joe Modica, a Reiki practitioner (depicted in fourth photo from top at left).

“We tried to pick towns of various sizes and personalities, and Roscoe worked well,” said Sellman “All of our towns were great experiences. And in Roscoe we met our Tiresias—Joe Modica.”

In the film’s trailer, Modica prophesies, “You’re going to be directed and guided to people that are going to affect you in the most profound ways, so this whole journey is already mapped out. You’re living the American dream.”

Don’t be a stranger
“American Bear” is currently in post production, as the couple has embarked on the new challenge of raising funds to complete the documentary. Utilizing an online crowdfunding kickstarter website to launch their campaign, the couple is counting, once again, on the kindness and generosity of strangers. With a January 21 deadline to raise $9,000, (more than $5,000 has been pledged so far), they are asking for pledges of support. Visit kck.st/uHYJ3s to become a friend.

The filmmakers describe themselves
Greg Grano grew up in Morristown, NJ, and recently graduated from New York University. Throughout his life, he has explored ways to translate emotions and stories into art: through classical music, songwriting and filmmaking. Grano’s films have always involved unique relationships between people, stories driven by fate or coincidence, beautiful images and an underlying optimism and hope for humanity. In his spare time, Greg has always been an explorer, enjoying long walks, hikes and road trips (mostly with Sarah). “American Bear” is his first documentary, and beyond that, the greatest experience of his life, blending his passion for adventure, filmmaking, people, and expanding all those ideas together with America and kindness—basically, it was phenomenal, and he can’t stop thinking about it, and telling stories about it, and wondering how and where to do this experiment again. Outside of all that, Greg loves pineapple, unique vegetarian food, playing the ukulele and wearing bright colors.
Sarah Sellman grew up in a bed and breakfast in a desert valley in rural Alamosa, CO. Her experiences there made her a strange sort of six year old—she has always loved talking to strangers. Her experiences in Colorado fostered her need for adventure and her ability to tell stories. So she ventured off to New York City where she attended film school at NYU. Sarah loves telling stories about people, textures and beautiful landscapes—sometimes with a hint of the surreal or fantastical and always about love and fortuity (her mother was a fan of romantic comedies and her dad had her watching sci-fi since she could speak). “American Bear” turned Sarah’s hypothetical trust in all people to an actual one and has been one of the greatest learning experiences of her life. Sarah is detail-oriented, texture-obsessed and curious about everything. Oh, and she really likes pie.