By now, you’ve read all about the sanctioned murder of the post office.
You know all about the debilitating requirement approved by a Republican-led Congress in 2006 that the post office pre-fund its benefits 75 years into the future. You’ve studied up on Louis DeJoy, Donald Trump’s recently appointed Postmaster General, who’s slashed overtime pay and removed sorting machines, weakening the post office’s ability to deliver mail on the cusp of an election that, due to a global pandemic, is projected to see a record number of mail-in ballots.
In May, you heard Trump say that nationwide voting by mail would mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” And on Thursday, you heard him publicly admit that he won’t provide additional funding to the post office because it would increase the ability to process mail-in ballots.
It’s a national emergency, no doubt. It’s a personal crisis, as well, for the millions of people who rely on the post office for prescriptions, paychecks, bills and consumer goods.
Colewell, released last year, is a film about none of those things. What it is about is the hole that’s left when a post office closes in a small rural community. For hundreds of towns across America, these tiny, one-room post office branches serve as community hubs, gathering places, and salves against loneliness.
It’s been this way since the first post office was opened in 1775. It’s an essential part of small-town life that’s dying quickly, as this administration closes more and more post offices nationwide. No other film has captured the loss of it quite as well.
“In my own life, where I live in the country, going to the post office is how I connect with the people in the little town I live in,” Karen Allen, the star of Colewell, told me in a visit to KQED upon the film’s 2019 premiere in San Francisco. “It’s where I see people that otherwise I probably wouldn’t see, because we’re sort of spread out in the countryside, and there’s that kind of wonderful conversation that happens.”
Allen, best known to moviegoers as Indiana Jones’ fierce, action-chasing ex-girlfriend Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, might seem like an unusual choice to play the film’s lead, Nora. The sixtysomething Nora doesn’t drink anyone under the table, or pull knives on attacking Nazis. Instead, she sips her morning coffee, pulls the rubber band off the morning paper, raises chickens and lives a quiet life of solitude.
That is, until the time comes each morning to open the tiny post office that abuts her house. There, people bring their knitting, their dogs, and their endless stories to Nora, and to each other, daily, among the wood-paneled walls and old combination-dial P.O. boxes.