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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Leah Warshawski - Tour Recap and Thoughts

The latest update from filmmaker Leah Warshawski, who recently finished touring her film Finding Hillywood on the Southern Circuit.

I'm not sure if I've had enough time to process the entire Southern Circuit Tour - it went by so fast - but the other day my husband asked me what the best parts were, and here are my favorite memories from all of our Finding Hillywood screenings in the South: Dinner with a new Polish "sister" in Clemson, speaking with a small film class at ETSU, meeting a great staff and being on the local radio in Milledgeville, a passionate and engaging audience discussion in Charleston, meeting my father's college roommate in Memphis (who happened to be sponsoring our screening), exploring the Museum of Fine Arts after-hours in Auburn, a hilarious and heart-warming Skype call with Skype-virgins in Tupelo, an impromptu lecture to 100 film students, and a hilarious Mexican dinner discussion and impassioned Q&A with students and teachers in Clinton. Of course I will always remember eating fried pickles and listening to a lot of Michael Jackson on the radio - I had no idea he got so much airtime in the South!

Each venue, staff, and students were completely different - so it would have been impossible to make predictions about how the screenings would go or how our film would be received. Overall, we are thrilled with the response and support, and feel like we have made some lasting connections. Since it took us 6 years to finish our film, it's huge validation to watch it with an audience and engage in discussions - all the while trying to grow our social media metrics for distribution! There are not a lot of opportunities to do these "rapid-fire" screenings and media blitzes, so we are incredibly grateful for what the Southern Circuit has done for the momentum of our project.

It can be lonely out there on the road when you're by yourself in a different city every night - and I hope that we're able to meet some of the other Southern Circuit filmmakers soon!