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Sit And Talk Awhile: Filmmaker Chronicles The Personal Side Of Politics

When I caught up with filmmaker Julie Winokur recently, she was in Atlanta, about to watch her 17-year-old son play baseball.

This is the same son who earlier this year called her the most "intolerant person" he knew.

"I couldn't let it go," she said. "I always thought I had a lot of empathy."

That original conversation happened around her dinner table in New Jersey, and Winokur decided to prove her son wrong — she did want to hear what people with differing beliefs had to say. But because she couldn't bring them to her own dinner table, she decided to bring the table to them.

And because she is a filmmaker (and co-founder of the documentary film company Talking Eyes Media), the whole conversation would happen on camera, of course.

One Kickstarter campaign and $30,000 in donations later, Winokur hit the road in her Prius with a folding table, a star-spangled tablecloth, videographer Andrew Hida and producer Julie Turkewitz. Videographer Jessey Dearing followed by motorcycle, and the team went on tour to ask average Americans to explore their political beliefs.

She calls the resulting project "Bring it to the Table." Already, she's interviewed people in Norfolk, Va., and North Carolina's Winston-Salem, Mt. Airy (the town Mayberry was modeled after), Faith and Chapel Hill.

The team calls ahead. It makes arrangements. It sets up the table and tripod, and then canvasses for people willing to talk. Winokur says they usually get one of two responses: "I don't talk about politics." Or, "That sounds interesting; tell me more."

"We are making sure we get a diverse sampling of voices," she said. "Democratic, Republican and independent voices, as well as racial, geographic, and age diversity. We are trying to get a true sample of what's going on in people's hearts, minds and beliefs."

Winokur always starts with the same questions: "Please identify yourself politically," then asks people to explain why. It's a pretty straightforward question. But then she asks, "What in your belief system crosses over to the other side?" That's where things get interesting.

"One of the big surprises is that you look at someone and make assumptions about them, and for the most part they shatter them. We are stereotyping — all of us do it — we stereotype on surface values, but there's so much nuance about what people believe," she said.

The interviews usually last 10 to 15 minutes, but in a Winston-Salem Baptist church, Winokur talked to the conservative minister for two hours, because she was so fascinated by him and by what he had to say.

"[The project] is about a personal journey to get to the heart of my own politics and understanding," she said. "If me and my crew don't have some revelations, then we've failed."

The crew will be taking the table to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Then it's off to the Midwest and West Coast later this year.

Her interviews will be released in a series of short webisodes starting in September. Until then, you can follow along on their website and Tumblr page.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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