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Stateside podcast: Chasing the American Dream in 'Bad Axe'

David Siev was living in New York City when people in the United States started taking the pandemic seriously. Like so many others, Siev packed up and moved back home to live with his parents.

He started filming what life was like.

“Life was very uncertain, but we were all together. I wanted to remember these times of all of us living under one roof and being together,” Siev said. “It was certainly not my intention to turn all these home videos into a documentary."

But that's exactly what Siev did. His new documentary film, titled "Bad Axe," follows the relationship between the Siev family, their family business, and the Bad Axe community during the height of the pandemic.

Siev said his family was able to be more emotional vulnerable because he was the one behind the camera.

“It’s almost like the camera is really never there,” Siev said. “It’s just me being there.”

Documentary filmmaker David Siev, who directed "Bad Axe." Siev said he never intended to turn his home videos into a documentary but just wanted to document his family "living under one roof."
Courtesy of David Siev. An IFC Films Release.
Documentary filmmaker David Siev, who directed "Bad Axe." Siev said he never intended to turn his home videos into a documentary but just wanted to document his family "living under one roof."

For over two decades, the Siev family has owned a restaurant called Rachel’s. It started off as a donut shop, but evolved over time into a restaurant that serves a wide blend of cuisine, from rice bowls, to tacos, to barbeque ribs, to Atlantic salmon. Today, Rachel's is a special place in the Bad Axe community.

“I always wanted to share my family’s story,” Siev said. “It’s because that story in itself, even before I picked up the camera, that’s the American Dream story. It was all of us working together to change what was once a failed donut shop into one of the most successful restaurants in the entire area.”

Then, when the pandemic forced people to remain in their homes, Siev said they entered into a scary time. Siev and his adult sisters struggled to convince their father that he needed to stay home and isolate for his own safety.

"Bad Axe" leans into the tensions caused by generational differences, racism, and fear, not only within Siev's household, but in his greater community. Part of the film documents the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and what it meant for Siev's family to speak out against injustice during that time. Siev said that there was conflict between his parents and his siblings because his siblings wanted to support the movement, while his father was nervous about facing backlash.

“He sees his outspoken children, all of them wanting to support a movement that he knows in his heart is the right thing to do, but has to balance that internal conflict that this could have backlash and have negative consequences on everything we worked so hard for as a family over two decades,” Siev said.

Siev held held a screener for right in Bad Axe, primarily for backers who made the project possible. He opened leftover seats to the public, and was surprised to find people in the audience who had openly criticized the film on social media.

"I remember us all being incredibly nervous," Siev said. "Because we didn't know if people were gonna heckle, or walk out, or whatever it was that they were gonna do to show their distaste for the film."

But when the lights came on at the end of the screening, many of those people approached his family to apologize for judging them before getting to know their story.

"It was really one of the first times I've gotten to witness the true power of cinema," Siev said. "And I say that because the true power of cinema is to create dialogue. But in order for there to ever be change, there needs to be dialogue in the first place."


David Siev, documentary filmmaker and director of Bad Axe

Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.
Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.