Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Mattituck grad’s documentary searches for the ‘American dream’

JULIANNE MCGRATH COURTESY PHOTO | Dan Bruno and his crew of five college friends visited 11 cities over 16 days in January, including the Grand Canyon, trying to find out how Americans view the ‘American dream.’

“The American dream” is an expression most Americans have grown accustomed to hearing, but what does it mean?

House and picket fence? Eternal happiness? Wealth?

And many say the American dream, whatever that may be, is dead.

Mattituck High School alumnus Dan Bruno, 22, set out on a cross-country road trip in January to find out the true meaning of the American dream.

And he filmed his entire experience for a documentary entitled “The Road Ahead of U.S.”

“What is the American dream, really?” Mr. Bruno asks at the start of his film, as the camera pans across different views of New York City. “I always thought it meant that if you work hard, you’ll be as successful and rich as you’ve ever wanted … But is that really true? Has this been working for all Americans?”

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | Dan with a copy of his documentary and the award he won for it.

These are the questions Mr. Bruno attempted to answer as he visited 11 cities over 16 days, interviewing locals with his video camera, microphone and crew of five college friends.

He and the crew sought funding for the trip online through Kickstarter and raised enough to cover much of their equipment, gas, food and hotel costs.

“Everyone really wants to go on a cross-country road trip, so people kind of connected with their inner bucket list and the donations just started growing,” he said. “I was just blown away by the generosity.”

A Mattituck native who graduated from high school in 2009, Mr. Bruno spent the last four years at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he studied film and television. He graduated in May, taking his trip during the school’s winter break.

“The Road Ahead of U.S.” started as his final film project for school, but Mr. Bruno wanted to do something a little different from the short films most students make on campus. He finished the project last month.

“I thought of the idea of the American dream and how to me it meant that if you work hard, you have a great life,” he said in an interview. “I’m following all of the steps that I should be following, but I don’t have any job set up out of college.

“I wondered if the American dream was just a myth and if it was true or not,” he said. “So, I thought it’d be cool to go on an adventure across the country and see what people think about the American dream and if it’s worked for people. That’s how the idea was born.”

The 11 cities chosen for the journey were Washington, D.C.; Durham, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Montgomery, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Dallas, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M,; Las Vegas, Nev.; Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif; and the Grand Canyon.

“I already knew I wanted to do the southern loop and I just looked to see what good cities were along that route,” he said. “Then I took days and days on Google Maps calculating everything.

“There were certain cities I knew I wanted to hit, like Montgomery, for Martin Luther King Jr., because he had the biggest American dream, or Vegas, because it’s Vegas. Then there were certain places, like Savannah, that I saw on the map and was just curious to visit.”

Interviewees ranged from a war veteran in D.C. to college students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to an Elvis impersonator in Vegas to a former drug addict in San Francisco — and answers to the question “What is the American dream?” were just as diverse.

One particular interviewee who stood out to Mr. Bruno was a young, homeless man the crew met in Durham, N.C.

During the interview, the 25-year-old responded that the American dream “would probably be figuring out how to beat the odds. A lot of people waste their time on it, you know, looking for something that they’re never going to find. For me, I’m just looking for whatever I can find.”

A war veteran Mr. Bruno interviewed in Washington replied to the question by saying there’s no nation quite like the U.S.

“I’ve traveled the world in the service,” the vet said, “and I’m telling you right now there isn’t a country out there that will give the opportunity to any of you like this country will. This country is just awesome.”

Most of those interviewed didn’t give a name on camera.

Mr. Bruno won the Best Producer award at Fairfield University’s annual film festival, called Cinefest Film Festival. He plans to submit the film to Long Island film festivals as well and to the Coney Island Film Festival, which is popular for documentaries.

As for other future plans, Mr. Bruno says he will move to Brooklyn in early July and is hoping to secure a job at Kaufman Astoria Studios, where he interned for the “Sesame Street” television show last year.

The most important lesson he says he learned through the film is to “take advantage.”

“Take advantage of the time you have,” he said. “Take advantage of America, because we take this country for granted. We had the freedom to travel across the country and meet people and have an amazing two weeks on the road and that is something I will never forget.”

Mr. Bruno believes that, in the end, he did discover what the American dream really was.

“Everyone’s life is so different and you have to find happiness your own way, and this country is great because it allows you to find it your own way.

“That’s what I think the American dream is.”

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