Sunday, September 21, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - Pompano Beach, FL

The latest update from filmmaker Katie Damien, touring her film My Toxic Backyard on the Southern Circuit:

Had a wonderful screening at Bailey Contemporary Arts in Pompano Beach with a wine and cheese reception before and a long discussion after the screening. Everyone took home a card with the website on it so they could look up toxic sites in their area. They were especially interested when I told them there were two in Pompano Beach alone.

Francine Strickwerda, Oil & Water - Shreveport, LA & Barbourville, KY

The latest update from filmmaker Francine Strickwerda, touring her film Oil & Water on the Southern Circuit:

Bloodshot Eyes, Full Heart  - Can’t Lose

After days packed with plane flights, long car drives, and film screenings, I head home to Seattle, Wash. today, but find myself wishing I could stay on this wild ride that is the Southern Circuit. My eyes are bloodshot, but my heart is full.

At Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, La. on Thursday night, I met with lovely students from Centenary College (I’m talking about you, the sweet filmmaking kid who flattered us by calling yourself “fanboy”!) and was part of a lively panel discussion with university professors Dalton Gossett (biological sciences) and David Hoass (economics), as well as Oliver Jenkins, Shreveport City Council member and president of Phillips Energy.  Thanks so much to these gentlemen and to the Robinson Film Center’s Meghan Hochstetler and Alex Kent, for structuring such a thoughtful conversation around OIL & WATER. Alex and Meghan charm the birds out of the trees with their passion for film and their commitment to promoting the well being of the Shreveport community. And the fact that they are both former newspaper reporters (like me) endeared me to them all the more. To top it all off, Meghan and Alex took me to the Center’s own restaurant for some delicious seafood gumbo. There’s a lot to love about the Robinson Film Center!

Then things got a little crazy. After a cancelled flight and a rental car mix up on Friday, I got lost on my way to Barbourville, Ky. Just when I started to really panic, I got a call from Diana Mills, foundation relations director at Union College, and she calmly filmmaker whispered me to campus. She and Union College President Marcia Hawkins welcomed me warmly to their newly updated theater for a screening that was big, but also, because everybody knows one another in this small town, intimate.

I was heartened by the kindness and enthusiasm of the audience, and enjoyed a conversation that was steeped in the community’s shared history. I was intrigued by the parallels that were drawn between the struggles of the Cofan people in OIL & WATER, and those of the people of Appalachia dealing with the coal industry. At the reception following the screening, I got to really dig in with some townspeople who shared their own stories of history and their pride of place, including one woman’s film project about local legend, Daniel Boone. I found myself falling for these people, and wondering how I could manage to find my way back to Barbourville.

As the evening wound down, Diana packed me a plate of leftover deserts from the screening and took me to “Scholar Holler” where the college put me up in my own apartment. There I ate my sweets and fell asleep watching an old Mae West film on TV. It was another magical night on the Southern Circuit.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - on the way to Florida

A brief photo update from filmmaker Katie Damien, touring her film My Toxic Backyard on the Southern Circuit:

Not much to say for day 3. Just flying. Got to see the contrast of what South Florida looks like naturally and what it's been sculpted into. I put my feet in the Atlantic tonight. Maybe tomorrow I'll manage to get my whole body in :)

Francine Strickwerda, Oil & Water - Cullowhee, NC

The latest update from filmmaker Francine Strickwerda, touring the Southern Circuit with her film Oil & Water:

Gratitude, Ya’ll

After eight long years making OIL & WATER, it feels unbelievably good to be taking the film on the road. I’m on the Southern Circuit film tour this week, taking eight flights to get to screenings and meet-ups in three Southern states in just six days.

I write this from a rocking chair at Ashville Regional Airport in North Carolina. This morning I ate grits for breakfast, and last night’s entertainment was the music of Blue Ridge Mountain bugs and a swim in my motel pool with one of the biggest insects I’ve seen since I was last in the Amazon. And I’m just so grateful to be here.

Gratitude is big this week as I travel solo on the Circuit.  I rarely spend much time alone anymore now that I have a three-year-old son whom I love to bits.  Thanks to my son’s amazing daddy (and OIL & WATER editor) Tracy Dethlefs, who’s doing double duty at home in Seattle, I get to be here. Every night before bed, Tracy holds storybooks up to his smart phone so I can read to our son via Skype. This calms my worrying mom brain so that I can continue to launch our new film “baby.”

The Southern Circuit is an amazing logistical feat, and I’m astonished by the territory covered and the people I’m getting to meet. This year the good people at South Arts are touring 18 films in communities all over the South.  And earlier this week on my first Circuit stop, Western Carolina University staff, students and faculty welcomed me to campus.  (Shouting out to Francis Ann Ortiz, Mike Corelli and Arledge Armenaki – ya’ll rock.)

I’ll admit, I was nervous. We’ve got many more festivals coming up, and a (PBS) World Channel broadcast next week (Sunday, Sept. 21, check your local listings!), but we’re really just getting started.  The Western Carolina students, these bright young people, put me right at ease and reminded me why I started making documentaries in the first place.

One young woman asked how to get people to really care about environmental problems like the ones in OIL & WATER. I’ve been mocked for being too earnest most of my life, and am pleased that I’m thrilled by this question.  My answer to her: pick something, even one thing that you care about, and find a way to push on it. And don’t give up.

Am I hopeful things can be turned around? I’m hopeful for Hugo Lucitante and the Cofan people whose struggle is explored in OIL & WATER. They number only about 1,000 people in Ecuador and another 1,000 in Columbia, and the dangers loom large. It’s not just the oil beneath their feet that the outside world wants to take; it’s all the natural resources on their land. But the Cofan should not be underestimated. They have a sophisticated understanding of the problems they are dealing with, and a powerful strategy for survival. Anything could happen, but I’m betting on the Cofan.

Another student asked what I liked most about making OIL & WATER. My favorite moments come from the time I spend with the camera behind me in what I call the “yummy cone of light” when someone opens up and tells me their story.  I am always humbled by the privilege it is to be entrusted with people’s stories, and following OIL & WATER’s stars Hugo Lucitante and David Poritz for eight years has been so satisfying. I’m grateful to them for the work they’re doing and for letting us shadow them for so long. And we know we were needy, noisy shadows sometimes, especially in the jungle. Thanks for hanging in there with us, guys. And to my co-director Laurel Spellman Smith, thank you for sharing this great adventure with me.

Lastly, I like being able to update audiences on new OIL & WATER news since we finished the film. This past summer there was another sizable oil spill near the Cofan village of Dureno. Now, for some good news. David’s company, Equitable Origin, has “fair trade” certified their first oil field in Columbia. The field will yield 250,000 barrels of EO certified oil a day, the equivalent of 25 percent of Columbia’s oil production. This is big news and I’m excited to see what Equitable Origin will do next.

Thanks again to the Southern Circuit and South Arts for giving filmmakers opportunities like these to reflect on their own journeys, and for making such an enriching experience possible. It’s a spectacular treat to be able to visit communities and have meaningful conversations about stuff that matters. And the grits, rocking chairs, and southern hospitality are pretty wonderful, too. I am grateful.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - Clinton, SC

The latest update from filmmaker Katie Damien, touring her film My Toxic Backyard on the Southern Circuit:

Day 2 at Presbyterian College. We spent the morning with in classes at Oxford that made me wish I was back in school! Then we were off to Clinton for a more intimate screening at Presbyterian College. The students were so engaged and had lots of questions for us about legality and policy. Another great day on the Southern Circuit.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - Oxford, GA

The latest update from filmmaker Katie Damien, touring her film My Toxic Backyard on the Southern Circuit:

First stop for us on the southern circuit is Oxford College where Jaime Byrd, my associate producer/editor/co-writer and I have been made to feel so very welcome and at home. We are staying in the gorgeous twelve oaks B&B in historic Covington. We were treated to a wonderful dinner with faculty and not only was the screening packed, but the students had great questions afterward. What a great way to kick off our tour of the Southern Circuit!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Laurel Spellman Smith, Oil & Water - Sheffield, AL

The latest update from filmmaker Laurel Spellman Smith, touring her film Oil & Water on the Southern Circuit:

Sheffield, Alabama in the beautiful Tennessee River Valley/Shoals area, was the last stop on my half of Oil & Water’s Southern Circuit tour. Francine is continuing the tour tonight Western Carolina University in Ashville, North Carolina. This is Sheffield’s first year participating in the Southern Circuit and I could feel the audience’s pent-up hunger for thought-provoking films. The question and answer session lasted for a full hour, with not a single audience member leaving the beautifully restored art deco Ritz theater. And after that was another hour of informal discussion in the theater lobby! Alabama is home to deposits of shale oil and gas which are currently unexploited but are drawing increasing interest from oil companies. Several people in the audience saw Oil & Water as a cautionary tale of what could happen in their own back yard.

But the Circuit isn’t just about the heady interactions between filmmakers and audiences during screenings, it can also be a fun way to introduce northerners to southern culture outside theaters and schools. So on a day off, my husband and I headed across the border to Savanna, Tennessee, the "catfish capital of the world" to weigh in (literally!) on a long-standing family feud. My husband's family was originally from the area and had divided loyalties between two venerable local catfish restaurants: Hagy's Catfish Hotel and River Heights Restaurant. We attempted the impossible, or at least the medically inadvisable: two meals of catfish and hushpuppies in one day. While both catfish fillets and whole catfish are served at the restaurants (deep fried in a cornmeal crust), traditionalists prefer the whole catfish and that is what we ordered. A dozen fish and two dozen hushpuppies later, our unanimous verdict was...a split decision. The fish was a higher quality and cooked to perfection at the Catfish Hotel, however we preferred the wonderfully seasoned and crunchy cornmeal batter used on the fish and in the hushpuppies at River Heights. The dining room at the Catfish Hotel is more quaintly decorated but River Heights has the more spectacular view of the Tennessee River. So both restaurants are excellent choices, depending on what you are looking for.

Catfish Capitol of the World
Catfish Hotel fish & puppies
River Heights Restaurant in Crump, TN - Catfish!
World's best hushpuppies at River Heights
Fried catfish is such a staple of southern cuisine that it is usually just called "fish" as if there is no other species or preparation imaginable. After my adventure, I am inclined to agree, although the grilled salmon back home in Seattle can give catfish a run for its money.

Noah Harald & Speak Now - Winder, GA, Micro-budget Filmmaking Part IV

The final update from filmmaker Noah Harald, who toured his film Speak Now on the Southern Circuit:

As I screen our film 'Speak Now' at the next four venues in the Southern Circuit I'm going to try something interesting and share my thoughts and advice about making a micro-budget improv film as well as my travels here in the South. Fourth and final screening- Winder, GA.

I had a few days off and spent them on Lake Oconee in GA for a few days and it was beautiful bliss. Got to fish under an incredible sunset and feel amazingly lucky to be alive and in the south. 'Speak Now' screened last night at the Winder Cultural Arts Center, and it was a great screening. Pretty robust turnout and a very diverse crowd. People enjoyed the film and had a ton of questions. Don Wildsmith ran the Q&A, and though he was a self-professed 'tech' he had great questions. It was a pleasure to chat with everyone about the film. After the screening, the cultural arts center had a reception and I got to meet and speak with some of the crowd. Awesome experience. The thing that has struck me most about screening the film in the south is that I think I had a preconception about how it would land with audiences. I thought that the lesbians and the closeted gay character and the movie about young people and failed marriages wouldn't ring as true as it did with intellectual film festival audiences and our friends in New York and LA. I was proven completely wrong. From young college age kids to retirees everyone appreciated and engaged with the film. It was eye-opening for me and a total re-education of my own beliefs about people in the south. I'm so appreciative it was an experience I got to have.

Making a micro-budget film, Part IV: Releasing your film into the wild
This is the hardest part. On many levels. One, you have to let people see your film, judge it as a film and watch it without disclaimers or cautions. Two, there are so many films being made now that finding an audience is harder than ever. The good news is the audience for indie films has never been hungrier and there have never been easier ways to reach them. I'm gonna outline the important things to think about and how we tackled (or failed to tackle) those issues- feel free to do your own research on how to tackle them yourself but know that I'm giving you a roadmap of obstacles.

1. Submit to and attend film festivals. Budget yourself several thousand dollars for this. Festival fees range from 25-150 bucks depending on the festival and the sheer numbers of films being submitted means your micro-budget indie with non name actors really has to stick out. Sometimes it will be lost in the crowd, sometimes it will be under-appreciated but eventually it will find it's home. We were rejected from at least a dozen smaller film festivals before we were accepted by the very prestigious Austin Film Festival, where we premiered and ultimately took home the Write/Rec Audience Award. If we had given up after the rejection of the smaller ones, we would never have gone on to play Austin, Atlanta and the many others culminating with the Southern Filmmakers Tour. Be persistent, have a great hook and count your lucky stars- you will find the right home.

2. Release the film! Sounds easy enough, right. RIGHT! In the best of all worlds a distributor will come to you at your Sundance premiere and buy the worldwide rights for a ton of money. But in the likely chance that this doesn't happen, you can release the film yourself. We aggregated with a company called Quiver, which for a small fee puts in the legwork and applications to get your film on digital platforms. We chose to go with iTunes and GooglePlay, and our film is currently available there. We also put the film on VHX, which is a newer on demand platform that you can name your price as well as connect with the audience of buyers. It's also a great way to fulfill digital downloads for your crowdfunding backers. If you've been following along and haven't seen our film, you can go to VHX and purchase the deluxe edition now for only 4.99 with the code SOUTHARTS at

3. Marketing. We are still trying to figure this out. The most important thing is to keep interacting with your fans. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for this, local press and ads may work, though we won't know what kind of conversion we can get until after a few months of working it. Make sure when you raise money you set money aside for this. No matter what you've spent on the film, you must spend money here if you want to reach an audience beyond your facebook friends. It's not an exact science, and there's so much research you can do and get lost in, but plan for this step.

4. Enjoy the ride. You made a film. You created a piece of art and now you're part of the conversation. What a beautiful thing. Thankfully there are people who crave the kind of art being created outside of the normal channels and no matter what happens, you made a film. Thanks for following along, and thank you so much to South Arts for creating this opportunity and having an agenda to spread the cinematic arts through the south. Cheers everyone.