Ugly Americans

Accidental Tourists Stumble Abroad

Each episode of Worlds Apart follows a similar structure of dislocation, homesickness, adaptation, and finally the obligatory and inevitable truisms about how much everyone's learned from the experience. Looking to avoid trouble, the show skips past awkward political conversations, preferring to concentrate on making emotional connections. Although it's not the most raucous reality show around, it does offer a slightly deeper model of American tourism than the usual round-the-world-in-10-days Let's Go version (or the Wildboyz-style invasion, for that matter). As Floyd Rappy says, "I don't want to package [my experience], I just want it to keep on informing my life."

To amp up Election Day anxiety, the Sundance Channel has put together "A Night at the Races," a marathon of election-related documentaries that will be broadcast on November 4 and again throughout the month. Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler's dry but meticulous film Unprecedented returns us to the chadlands—the mass voter fraud otherwise known as the 2000 presidential election—while R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor's sharp documentary, A Perfect Candidate, takes us further back in time to Oliver North's 1994 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Traveling birdbrains: Wildboyz learn to talk with the animals.
photo: Anna Berry-Jester
Traveling birdbrains: Wildboyz learn to talk with the animals.


Sundays at 10 p.m. on MTV

Worlds Apart
Mondays at 8 p.m. on National Geographic Channel

A Night at the Races
Tuesday, November 4, at 8 p.m. on Sundance Channel

The quirkiest film in the series, Our Times by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (Under the Skin of the City), documents the 2001 presidential elections in Iran. Inspired by her teenage daughter's involvement in the campaign to reelect reformist president Mohammed Khatami, Bani-Etemad captures the surge of youthful political ebullience in her country. But then she goes deeper, focusing her lens on one of the 48 women who quietly declared themselves presidential candidates: Arezoo, a luminous, articulate single mother who works two jobs and lives on the brink of homelessness. Our Times delicately captures the disconnect between Iran's growing sense of political freedom and Arezoo's persistent struggle to survive.

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