Monday, April 21, 2014

Jyllian Gunther and 'The New Public' on the Road

East Tennessee State University

Our first screening on the tour - we drove from the Full Frame Festival in Raleigh Durham through torrential downpours and Blue Ridge mountain fog so thick we could not see two feet in front of us. 5 hours later we emerged at The Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City - “where old world meets modern comfort” then to dinner with the faculty of  ETSU, who were gracious and super interesting - Shara K. Lange Assistant Professor, RTVF Director Department of Communication, Tammy Hayes, Director, Anita DeAngelis, Director, Heidi Ehle, Assistant Director, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.

The screening was attended by 68 people and our Q&A was enlightening. A few exchange students from China were floored at the way the school in our film was run, they said they could not believe it existed, and would be interested but scared to attend a school that allowed kids so much freedom.  It was a great first screening. Following day we met with Kim Hale, an interim associate dean in education, and Alison Barton, an associate professor in teaching along with Heidi and a few others. It was really interesting for both Penelope Falk, (film’s editor) and myself to get a sense of the education system in Johnson City, and it really felt gratifying that the film offered a platform to spark discussion for everyone.

Western Carolina University

The highlight of this screening was our cafeteria dinner with senior student, Jefferey Ray, who was also our host and MC’d the screening. There were about 25 audience members here and once again we were amazed by the similarities and differences the audience, a mix of both students and educators sited. They gave us a reception and served a cake with our name on it!  Educators expressed their frustration of being underfunded and overworked and in response to our tag line,  “It’s bigger than school -  Dr. Catherine Carr, Director of English Education Western Carolina University said AMEN!”

PS:  We went horseback riding on our way to….

Clemson University

Friday Night Lights! On a Wednesday. Aga Skrodzka-Bates hosted this screening, which had a packed audience. Afterwards, she told us that the film was her favorite of all from the Southern Circuit tour and she felt it made a great impact- who could ask for more? A student, Katie Capurso came up to us at the end and told us she wanted to stop the film in the middle to give one of the students in the film a hug.

Presbyterian College

This was our favorite screening to date - and it wasn’t because we were staying in a luxurious farmhouse with goats and alpacas, thanks to Molly McGehee, Director, Southern Studies Program. The school’s campus was beautiful, the faculty took us to dinner and were amazing and fascinating people. They said it was their most packed house of the season - there were local hs teachers, educators and students from PC, the former Dean of the school, and the Superintendent of the school district, David O'Shields, not only came, but gave us a standing ovation!  Penelope and I were riveted by the audiences responses as they watched - usually we step out during the film, but the energy in the room was gripping and we could barely bring ourselves to miss any of it. The young people asked eye--opening and challenging questions, the educators applauded the schools honesty the way it did not push an agenda - was really wonderful all around.

Link Centre
Got food poisioning, wah!
So sorry to have missed this!
Hope it was a great screening!

Georgia College and State University

It’s post spring break finals week at college right now, which means folks are pretty busy, but a small group made it to our screening and we had a lengthy and intense conversation afterwards. At each screening, we hear from folks that there are ways in which the film highlights their own experiences and also surprises them with just how different things are. I was thrilled to meet Grace, a young woman who runs an LGTBQ organization and connected her Live Out Loud, and organization that supported JOhn Dargan, one of the main subjects of The Public. Thanks to Mary, Joe and Doug for their hospitality - a lovely dinner and a tour of the Georgia’s antebellum capitol!

The Arts Council University of North Georgia, Gainesville

Great Q&A about both education and filmmaking, which was refreshing!  Of course, I enjoy talking about education issues, but it’s nice to share about the filmmaking process as well, especially with media students.  Also, appreciated Jeff Marker’s  Q&A style - very energetic and knowledgable - I bet he is also a great teacher. Jeff said our film was in high demand on the southern circuit --so  great to hear We had about 35 audience members, combo of students and educators. I love it when folks are not afraid to be critical or ask hard questions and a real debate gets started. We discussed what preparation BCAM school founders had and if it was enough - also, if there is ever enough. On the filmmaking front, one student was disappointed that we skipped from 1st year to 4th year - ulitmately, i took it as a compliment that he could have watch 2 more years, but I appreciate that he was not crazy about the jump in time, so I suggested he  watch the Michael Apted  7UP series…  : )  We stayed at a B&B in the woods - nice respit from Comfort Inn living. We’re looking forward to Memphis BBQUE in just a few hours and also meeting Brighid Wheeler who has been our point person for our Indie Memphis screening!

Indie Memphis

Indie Memphis screening was everything we hoped for. Thanks for Brighid and Eric for making it happen. Their gigantic screen and a sound system allowed us to hear things we never even knew were in the film.  We had an amazing, passionate and knowledgable panel Marc E. Willis, Co-founder & CEO of Omni Schools Inc. Cardell Orrin, Memphis City Director of Stand For Children, Chris Caldwell, Shelby County school board, District 1, and moderated by Barbara Prescott, a former 3 term member of the Memphis City School Board (as President and VP.) We iphone video recorded this panel and will include it here in the days to come.

Also, here’s a link to WKNO Memphis Public radio intvw by Kacky Walton with editor Penelope Falk and myself!

Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, College of Charleston School of the Arts

Our last screening on our Southern Circuit tour could not have been more gratifying - only sorry we didn’t have more photos - was so caught up in the Q&A that I totally forgot to take snaps. (photos above are the theatre and the poster they made in a local cafe : ) 

Our audience members said one after another that they felt the film should be shown in every school in the country (!) and the Q&A was more like  testimonials of personal experiences from students, parents, and educators. ONe student said he went into teaching and after a year could not handle it, but wished he had been able to see The New Public before he did that which he felt would have prepared him for what to expect. A parent with two teens found the film so inspiring he asked if he could show the film to his kids who he felt were in crisis to help give them some perspective on perservering. A public defender noted that the film resounded with the same issues he faces in his work everyday - issues that cannot be addressed by one public insitution alone - not his own or schools. And many of the educators in the audience said they saw their own experience in the film and appreciated the way it didn’t vilify or glorify their job. Thanks to Lizz Biswell of the Halsey Institute for doing such a great intro and making it happen!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chris Eska - Alexandria

The latest update from filmmaker Chris Eska, touring his film The Retrieval on the Southern Circuit:

Alexandria, Louisiana

Beautiful weather returned as I drove north to Alexandria for the final night of the tour. The film played on a brand new projector at the largest venue during the entire tour, the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center. It was a thoughtful audience with lots of discussion and comments both during the Q&A and afterward in the lobby. There were two special audience members in attendance: David and Nicole Holcombe. The Holcombe’s hosted me in their beautiful art-filled home, and we enjoyed several interesting conversations and taught each other about our respective arts. David is a playwright, and Nicole makes many types of art, most prolifically with Slavic-inspired intricately-decorated eggs. Thanks to everyone who made this tour a success!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chris Eska - Lafayette

The latest update from filmmaker Chris Eska, touring his film The Retrieval on the Southern Circuit:

Lafayette, Louisiana
Storm clouds erupted across Louisiana as I drove to Lafayette for a screening at Vermilionville Living History Museum. During the screening, the rain pounded the roof and the wind threatened to pry off the walls of the performance hall, but sometimes watching a movie during a thunderstorm can add to the experience and mystery of what’s unfolding on screen. The audience was small, but the discussion afterward was intimate, and they even answered some of my questions about life and Cajun culture in Acadiana.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On the Road with Chris Eska & "The Retrieval'

We have a few updates from filmmaker Chris Eska, currently touring his film The Retrieval on the Southern Circuit:

Suwanee, Georgia
My tour began with a little taste of home since the City of Suwanee partners with the Texas theater chain The Movie Tavern, which serves real food while you enjoy the film.  Toni Shrewsbury, Adam Edge, and Lynne DeWilde all greeted me at the swanky bar inside the theater, and their Suwanee hospitality woke me up from my non-stop travel daze.  After the screening, the discussion was lively--every single person in the audience asked at least one question and we actually ran out of time!  It was a perfect kick-off to the trip, and it has me excited for more.

Madison, Georgia
The trip from Suwanee to Madison went far beyond the suburbs of Atlanta into what reminded me of the rural South of my youth.   I was compelled to stop more than once to take photos along the scenic back roads.  Driving into Madison felt like coming home since I also grew up in a Texas town of about 5,000 people full of beautiful late 19th century homes and historical markers.  The screening took place in the incredible Madison Morgan Cultural Center, which is a large converted school house from the 1890’s.  Thanks to Rebecca Bonas for coordinating and to the African American Museum for sponsoring the reception!  Over 50 people stayed for an extended Q&A that also delved deep into my previous works and what it means to be an indie filmmaker.

Hapeville, Georgia
It seemed like I was driving back into Atlanta, but Hapeville is a unique small town that just happens to be surrounded by the sprawl of the city.  It was a beautiful spring day with blossoming trees and the city of Hapeville hosted an outdoor reception (complete with live music) that really brought out an impressive crowd—over 70 people including the mayor!  The screening was on the grounds of a beautiful city park inside a renovated church from 1895, complete with intricate woodwork and real pews.  This made me initially feel like a preacher droning on at the beginning of the post-film discussion, but once the floor was opened to questions, the audience became very engaged with curiosity and many thoughtful comments.  It was a truly wonderful end to the Georgia leg of my tour, and I hope to come back soon.

Lake Charles, Louisiana
From the moment I stepped on the plane, it felt like I was entering another country.  When I arrived in Lafayette and began driving to Lake Charles, southern Louisiana did not disappoint:  Zydeco and swamp pop on the radio, endless marshes, French language, green as far as the eye can see, and joyous people.   Before the screening, I stopped by the Downtown Crawfish Festival to hear some live Zydeco, see a crawfish eating contest, and get my picture taken with Miss Crawfish!  The screening at Banners at McNeese was also a huge success, and I enjoyed hearing about local life and history in Lake Charles as much as the audience enjoyed hearing about filmmaking.

Friday, April 11, 2014

'The Winding Stream' (& Filmmaker Beth Harrington) Wind through the South

Director Beth Harrington has been blogging about her Southern Circuit travels and screenings via her blog. Check it out! With Beth's blessing, we're sharing her adventures!

CU JB and me

Monday, March 31, 2014

How Alabama taught me that immigration is a civil rights issue

This post is re-produced with permission from Sarah Stuteville (one of the producers of Barzan, which recently completed touring the Southern Circuit). It originally appeared in the Seattle Globalist.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, arguably the political and cultural opposite of the Deep South, it's easy to think in stereotypes. Until recently, my knowledge of the region was limited to a short list that read something like: powerful hospitality, complicated history, good food, bad politics.

I spent the past couple weeks traveling to small towns throughout the South screening a documentary I had worked on. It played in museums, community centers and tiny rural theaters through a program called the Southern Circuit.

My film (titled “Barzan”) is largely about immigration issues, and I was curious, even a little nervous, about how the film might be received.

I was particularly anxious about Alabama. In 2011 , the state passed one of the country’s harshest immigration laws, House Bill 56 .

This law, among other things, banned landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, required schools to check the status of students and police to arrest suspected immigration violators. Much of the bill has since been dismantled in the courts, but I wondered what sort of attitudes had set the stage for the bill’s passing in the first place.

The night of our Alabama screening, the audience was small — 10 people clustered in back of the theater. The house lights came up to polite applause, but the topic hit home and had folks lingering over a well-stocked snack table long after the credits rolled.

“Immigration has been used to pull people further into the conservative movement here,” said Matthew Glover, 29, who serves on the Good Hope, Ala., City Council when he's not working as an auto-parts delivery-truck driver. “They really beat into your mind that (immigrants) are stealing from you ... that they're taking money out of your pockets.”

Glover said that, ironically, it was negative economic impact that ultimately turned people in his town against HB 56. Businesses, especially Alabama's chicken farms, lost profits when many of their undocumented workers disappeared, seemingly overnight.

For that night's moviegoing crowd, immigration issues were inextricably linked to economic challenges and many felt that immigration had been used as a political tool to help explain much of the state’s struggle with poverty and unemployment.

An hour south, in Birmingham, home to some of the most significant civil-rights protests of the 1960s, it is the connection between immigration issues and civil rights that motivates a new generation of activists.

“People felt that we had gotten past the '60s,” said the Rev. Angie Wright describing the passage of HB 56, “and then we were being seen again as that place of hate.”

Wright was across the street from the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing with other immigration activists at Kelly Ingram Park — a memorial to the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s. The group was there to call for national, comprehensive immigration reform. Speakers called for a country that “has no second-class citizens” and “welcomes all equally” in a city that, only a generation ago, had some of the strongest segregation laws in the nation. The connection between the civil-rights movement and the push for immigration reform felt very real. The most real, perhaps, to immigrants like Maricela Garciá, who came to Alabama from Oaxaca, Mexico, 14 years ago in search of a better life.

Garciá, who has been working to organize her community to fight for immigrant rights ever since the passage of HB 56, says the lessons of the civil-rights movement inform her work.

“There is strength when you get together,” she said, adding that she believes that the darkest of circumstances often offer the greatest opportunity for change.

“HB 56 was bad for us, it's true,” she said after placing a yellow daisy at a memorial for the victims of the 1963 church bombing, “but it's good for us, too, because now there are many groups organizing, and there's power in this community.”

Much more power, and complexity, than this Seattleite could have possibly imagined just a few weeks ago.

Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist,, a blog covering Seattle's international connections. Sarah Stuteville: Twitter: @SeaStute

Bradley Hutchinson - Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts from filmmaker Bradley Hutchinson, who recently completed touring his film Barzan on the Southern Circuit:

While riding on a 4am shuttle from Athens to the Atlanta airport I am trying to find words to describe the last two weeks I have spend on the Southern Film Circuit. In between the perils of travel and sickness I have met a lot of genuinely engaged and passionate lovers of film. Whether in Gallatin, Tennessee or Louisville, Kentucky or Augusta, Georgia or Hanceville, Alabama everyone in the audiences were amazingly receptive to our film.

For Gallatin and Louisville our films Executive Producer Cassidy Dimon joined the tour. Both of these screenings went really well, the staff at both venues were great and both Tennessee and Kentucky are really interesting places for something who has rarely been outside of Washington State. Cassidy and I went to the Mammoth caves on one of our driving days and if you ever get a chance to go there... do! It is amazing.

After Cassidy and I wrapped up the Louisville screening she had to head home. At that point co-director Alex Stonehill and our film's reporter/producer Sarah Stuteville joined me for the remained of the tour. They are the production team that went to Iraq and conducted all of the interviews so they added a lot of first person experience and stories to the rest of the Q&As. Creatively the three of us were the core that made the film so we spent a lot of our time talking about the experience over the last two years of making the film the pitfalls and the successes. By the end of our final week I think we really felt like the Southern Film Circuit was a big part of our general feelings of accomplishment and success. Our final screening in Winder, Georgia was particularly good in part because the audience really seemed to love the film but also because we had a fantastic moderator for our Q&A Mr Christopher Childs. He asked some great questions that got us talking about this film and saying things I don't ever remember saying in a room full of people.

Now back in Washington State going through pictures and writing this I can't help thinking that my experience on the Southern Film Circuit is one that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. There really is nothing else like it that I know of and that is something to have a lot of pride in.

So thank you to all the people at the Southern Film Circuit who manage and facilitate it, thank you to all the venues and the people who run them, and of course thanks you to all the people who came out and watched our movie.
-Bradley Hutchinson

For all of you who missed the chance to see Barzan on the Southern film Circuit look for it on Amazon, iTunes and other VOD services starting in June 2014.

Alex and Sarah at Wallace State

Winder Screening

Bottomless Pit inside Mammath caves

Cassidy and Brad

Clifton Center in Louisville

Mammath Caves sign

Palace Theater Gallatin

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jan Krawitz - Lafayette and Alexandria

The latest updates from filmmaker Jan Krawitz, who recently completed touring her film Perfect Strangers on the Southern Circuit.

March 24, Lafayette, LA
Today's screening was held at The Vermilionville Living History & Folk Life Park. Erin Stickney first took me to the local NPR station situated at the University of Louisiana for an interview on a local talk show. The host, Judith Meriwether, asked provocative questions about the film and my approach to documentary in general. The setting for the screening that evening was in a lovely museum where a number of historical buildings had been restored in a plein air setting. The screening was in a performance space and jambalaya had been prepared by the chef from the on-site café. Although the audience had only six people, we had a substantive conversation following the screening. There were two nurses in attendance who had a lot to offer and one woman talked about her husband who had donated his organs posthumously. As always, I took away more insights about the issues following as well as suggestions about outreach to “health ministries” within Southern churches.

March 25, Alexandria, LA
It was lovely to be off the interstate and invited by a local couple, Nicole and David Holcombe, to stay in their home. They have hosted filmmakers on the Southern Circuit for about five years and I truly enjoyed meeting them, seeing their wonderful house filled with eclectic art, and having an incredible home-cooked meal!  We rushed off to the local performing arts center – a grand, 10-year old building. Matt Henry introduced the film to a very small crowd.  But again, the conversation afterwards had its own rewards. Present in the audience was a nephrologist who has worked with kidney patients for years and sits on the board of LOPA (Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency) so he proffered some interesting opinions. His wife and I chatted before the screening and, based on the film's description, she shared her incredulity about that someone would voluntary choose to donate a kidney to a perfect stranger. After the screening, she had moderated her skepticism and appreciated how Ellie's (my subject) actions were consistent with her worldview and approach to life. I had a wonderful night in the restful environment of the Holcombe's home before flying back to San Francisco the following day. So the whirlwind tour has come to a close and I truly appreciated the opportunity to be present with the film in such diverse locations. I often think of putting a film out in the world as akin to a “tree falling in the forest." Most of the time, I don't really know if it is heard – but the Southern Circuit allowed me to engage with audiences who approached the film with an open mind and generously shared their responses with me.