Mourning in America


Our divided nation is the topic of Mitch McCabe’s harrowing new documentary 23 Mile. Set firmly in America’s heartland, the film is a video diary of a perfect storm of events in 2020: the Presidential election in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

The scene is Michigan, from Detroit to Kalamazoo and stops in between. While the state has “long been a hotbed of militia activity,” as one observer puts it, 23 Mile spreads a wide net, documenting tourists, activists and extremists. What emerges is a disquieting portrait of a disillusioned and confused populace.

23 Mile offers no narration or commentary. Its technique is simplicity itself, purely point-and-shoot: press conferences, rallies, protests, fundraisers. It’s a verité collage of the breadth of involvement (and dissatisfaction) that emerges from behind masks and disinfectant. Bleak scenes—bare trees (it’s fall), red MAGA caps, puffer jackets—are punctuated by radio show call-ins, ghostly voices out of the ether, against shots of waves lapping at a tanker, or media microphones awaiting a speaker.

Mitch McCabe is the director/producer of other topical shorts and features, including You Have Been Lied To (2023), Civil War Surveillance Poems, Part 1 (2020), and the 2009 HBO documentary Youthh Knows No Pain.

Though the time for both sides-ism has passed, the film employs it to great effect. The people just speak. Their affiliations are not readily revealed. It’s a canny device: all the complaints sound alike: something’s got to change in our basic political and social structure. One man who hosts an unpopular Biden display on his front lawn says, “Policies are the same. I just want to vote for decency.”

The media is a pariah, called out as “the most effective devil in America.” Most of the dissent is bull-horned or glad-handed. “I cannot do anything unless it’s defensive,” says a middle-aged man in paramilitary garb, as if that justifies his assault weapon. He knows that whoever fires the first shot potentially sets off a barrage. Yet they carry, concealed or right out there.

To watch 23 Mile is to witness the groundswell and experience the monotony of lives left behind. These people take to the streets, waving the flag and mouthing the mantra “We the people/liberty for all” while marching under the shadow of disinformation. In the span of time covered by the film, the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer is exposed. One interviewee is happy to see her unharmed but stung by her criticism of Trump, as if the two acts weren’t related.

It's no spoiler to say that 23 Mile ends first with the election—a lone walker holds up a hand scrawled sign that reads “You lost,” which could be intended for any of us—and then with the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine from the plant in Kalamazoo. Then the chilling caption “24 days till Jan. 6.”

23 Mile is a searing snapshot of a prophetic time in our history.


23 Mile. Directed by Mitch McCabe. On VOD, DVD, and Blu Ray. 78 Minutes.

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