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Heartland Film Festival: Indiana duo reflects on their 'tour to unite'

Nathaniel Hoff and wife Jillian Speece's careers took a turn after the death of Hoff's grandfather back home in Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS — Nathaniel Hoff and his high school sweetheart wife, Jillian Speece, make up "The Bergamot."

Their career took a turn after the death of his grandfather back home in Indiana.

"We got in our station wagon, drove from New York to South Bend, said our final goodbyes, and then, he passed away," Speece said. "And he put his hands on the wheel of the station wagon and it was like the divine that came and spoke to him and said, 'You need to go on a tour to unite people, and you need to go now.'"

"We had all of maybe $600 in our bank account [and] a car with 264,000 miles on it," Hoff said.

It was 2016. They covered 50,000 miles, performing 270 concerts in eight months — promoting unity.

"He was driving," Speece said. "He literally drove us to all 50 states and I filmed and I was on the computer and as I make phone calls, booking, figuring out where we're gonna spend the night, where we're gonna do our laundry, where we were going to eat, and it was crazy."

Word got out, the "unity collective car" was coming. Crowds came and wrote personal messages on that old Volvo.

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"And this message moved forward, city to city, state to state during one of the most divisive election periods in American history in 2016," Speece said. "So we're out there. As you know, we said that we were the counter-narrative of 2016. The thing that actually unites us is the fact that we all are Americans, we all have basic things that we all want. We want to feel love. We want to be able to give love. We want our families to be safe."

"I hope that people, when they watch the film, they're just seeing two Hoosiers who felt inspired to go into the country and tell a narrative that wasn't being told by the media. It was being told by everyday people. It was being told by people," Hoff added. "And I think that one of the things that I've come to understand with Unity is, you know, it's are we a diverse country? Yes. Are we a divided country? Yes. Do we have a lot of differences between us? In many ways? Yes, but the diversity is actually what can what can actually push us forward." 

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"So what we talk about is what we focus on grows, and in spreading this message of unity and saying, 'Hey, we might disagree on things, but that doesn't mean I have to hate you;' I'm coming at this with love and an open heart," Speece said.

It's a journey they say changed their lives. They grew in empathy, and they hope it impacts audiences in the same way.

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