Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marta Cunningham, Valentine Road - ETSU, Emory, & Auburn University

From Filmmaker Marta Cunningham of Valentine Road:

Southern Circuit Tour Part 2

Back to Atlanta, and then I jumped onto a quick flight to Johnson City to discuss filmmaking with students at East Tennessee State University, and a screening of Valentine Road. The drive in from the airport was beautiful. Watching the beginning of Fall come in with all the various colors of the autumn leaves changing was stunning. No more 90 degree weather; Fall had come to Tennessee. The Carnegie Hotel across the street from the University was straight out of a play or a movie from the 30s, like The Grand Hotel. Everything was beautifully done in period style. Even though the actual building was only 14 years old, the beautiful antiques, style, and design were not.

 The next morning I spoke with undergraduate students majoring in Radio, Television and Film. They were incredibly open and inquisitive. Vulnerable but not shy. We spoke about how technology has changed the game and it was no longer a necessity to have expensive cameras to shoot your film, or to spend thousands of dollars to end up in New York or LA. I have been traveling with the film for almost two years now. While visiting the many festival around the world, I have been lucky enough to meet many different filmmakers from all over, and the new trend is staying put. Telling stories about where you're from and developing a community of artist at home has been incredible to watch grow. One of the questions I posed to the students was, "Does your dream involve being extremely rich beyond your wildest dreams and hanging out with movie stars, or do you want to be an independent filmmakers and  tell stories?" I was very honest with them about the realities of being a filmmaker, and working anything you can get to pay the bills while pursuing your dreams. Luckily, they seemed unfazed and excited about the opportunity of not having to move to one of the coasts in order to pursue their passion. I left intrigued with where this class will end up.

That afternoon, I was back with another class watching a very talented director's documentary short on Mars 1. A well-done rough cut. The second time the class and I watched it together, I went through my notes with the director and the class, and discussed the story, pacing, and the length of a good short. I loved it. The class seemed excited as well. The director is passionate about her work and the craft of filmmaking, which is always great to witness.

The screening of Valentine Road that night was emotional. There were a lot of tears and anger about the state of our country, and the senselessness of the hate and violence that we discuss in the film. One woman who spoke to us shared her story, through tears, about living in Tennessee and coming out at 43 years old. She was destroyed by the hatred she witnessed in the film and vowed to make a difference in her community. She said it was difficult, because from her viewpoint, the LGBT community was not visible and she wanted more. I am hopeful that she is on a path to help change her community. Another young woman shared her story of her father and grandmother being homophobia, and growing up in a Baptist fundamentalist community. When she first came to ETSU, she didn't know how to act or what to say to someone who was in the LGBT community. However, over time she has learned to open up and become accepting, and is happy to say she now has gay and lesbian friends at school. She then went on to say she was going to buy the DVD on Amazon and show her family it on movie night! I told her to let me know how it goes. So inspired by our youth, really shaking it up!

Back to Atlanta Airport and off to Oxford, Georgia to meet with the students and professors of Emory for a screening, and a class of Gender and Violence. The lovely place they chose for me to stay in is in a picture-perfect town called Covington, and called the 12 Oaks Bed and Breakfast, after its namesake from Gone With The Wind, (a film I still have not seen). A few years ago, it was a house in foreclosure, completely rundown and in disarray. Now it's Scarlett's Tara. It really is unique and beautiful. The owner, Nicole, has put an incredible amount of love into each room. The screening of Valentine Road played to a packed house of Emory students, by far the most vocal, distraught, and active group yet. The Q&A lasted for over an hour, and then continued afterwards with a few students in the hallway until almost midnight. The students were a true embodiment of diversity - not just in ethnicity, but also in thought and in how they processed the film. I was truly impressed.  What a great opportunity to witness. I told them all that the kids in the film are now their age, and how they are the future and have the responsibility to help change the various ills in our society. They seemed to welcome it with open arms.

Next up, my last stop on this incredible tour, Auburn University in Alabama. When I drove up to the beautiful museum where Valentine Road will be screening this evening, I stumbled directly into a field of cotton across the parking lot. I was struck immediately by not only its proximity to this new beautiful Italian marble structure, but to the fact it is the first time I have ever seen a cotton field up close and personal. It’s a part of our legacy that some African Americans would like to forget. I took a moment as dusk was approaching to take pictures, and pay tribute to my own personal family sacrifices and the heritage of our ancestors. It felt very big just standing there by that cotton field, like an ending source of pain that has not been healed or discussed. A discussion our country has been avoiding for hundreds of years.

When I walked in the museum, I was so happy to see their new exhibition - Rembrandt and The Golden Age of Painting in Europe, which I toured while the film played. (I stopped watching my film over a year ago.) I also was lucky enough to witness the partial eclipse of the sun through a local star watcher's telescope he and his wife had set up. It was awe inspiring to say the least.

The documentary played to a full house and some of the students happened to also be film students at the University. The Q&A was very interesting. At the initial session, the students seemed overwhelmed and timid at first. I noticed that mostly the young men were asking the questions. Slowly, as they became more comfortable with idea of talking directly to the source, the questions became in-depth about filmmaking. After the session, a few of the female students said they cried during the entire film. I told them I understood and that it was one of the reasons I don't watch the film anymore. I always let the students know how well most of the youth in the film are doing at this point in their lives, since they relate to them on a very intimate level. I know it could have been something they witnessed, since they are a generation that grew up with school shootings. Sadly, it is an almost everyday occurrence in our nation.

Overall, the Southern Circuit Tour of Valentine Road has been a deeply impactful and successful event. I am so grateful to Teresa Hollingsworth, South Arts, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the professors and docents at all of the screenings who helped with the screenings, classes, and discussions that came out of their dedication to the arts.

Our youth are surprising us every day, and none more than the young men and women that I have met in my Southern Circuit Tour. Truly displaying unbelievable courage and commitment to the fight for equality for our all marginalized voices. I will be back!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Shelli Ainsworth, Stay Then Go - Cullowhee NC

We have the latest blog post from Shelli Ainsworth, tourng her film Stay Then Go on the Southern Circuit:

Hello from Cullowhee, NC, and the gentle, glinting Tennessee River.

Our 4th screening of STAY THEN GO was at Western Carolina University. While they were folks there from the community outside the university, which was great, they were also many students - many film students in attendance. Subsequently, the Q&A was more centered on creative process, working with actors,  production woes / triumphs, and a lot of inquiry about the characters in STAY THEN GO, their intentions, their arcs.

The focus of the film program here is storytelling. Learning how to do that. Certainly dear to my heart! The faulty that we met are long time filmmaking veterans who left Malibu, left LA, to live in a lovely small town in the mountains in North Carolina. (There's a movie idea there?!) It was great to meet and talk with their students. I loved their palpable energy, ambition, and curiosity. Keeps the truth coming forward. Our next stop: Madison, Georgia = heaven.

Looking forward to the STAY THEN GO screening at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC.
Francis Ann Ortiz, Assistant Director of Campus Programming and Shelli.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shelli Ainsworth, Stay Then Go - Barbourville KY, Sheffield AL

The latest update from filmmaker Shelli Ainsworth touring Stay Then Go on the Southern Circuit:

Now with two more screenings in the rental car rear-view mirror: objects are closer than they appear, yep to that. Our memories of these experiences are so vivid, close to the heart. My heart.

The Southern Circuit program has provided us with an opportunity to get beyond, to expand the oft-tread and diminishing path too often the fate of small independent films. To have that fourth wall, to have an audience in a different community every night is a great = fresh, illuminating, inherently creative experience.

Thank you to Union College, Barbourville KY – with its red-walled twinkly jewelry box of a theater, its awesome projection booth, and the gracious, erudite, inquiring people we met and connected with. Such hospitality, and a great engaged audience.

Fine folks at Union College, support staff, faculty. L to R:
Diana Mills, Shelli Ainsworth, Denny Liford, Tara Alan, A.J. Peterkin, Virginia Gay Candy, Christine Marley-Frederick, Kim Yeager

Union College Little Rectory Theater
Thank you to the Tennessee Valley Art Association for the warm welcome, the utterly delicious snacks! at the reception, and for the consideration, respect, and thoughtful curiosity you showed our film, and us. And what a theater! 1929, called the Ritz! Lovingly restored! With a big screen!

Marquee outside the splendid Ritz Theater, downtown Sheffield, Alabama.
If I'm dreamin', don't wake me.

Next stop: Cullowhee, NC!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marta Cunningham, Valentine Road - Memphis, TN & Clinton, SC

From Filmmaker Marta Cunningham of Valentine Road:

Coming to the South with the festival put on by South Arts Southern Circuit has been exhilarating! Valentine Road is needed in the South, and I am lucky enough to have been asked Teresa Hollingsworth to accompany the film on the tour.

We started out in Memphis, where one man, so moved by the film, came up after the Q&A at and just gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes, and thanked me. He told me how hard it had been for him as a child, growing up gay in the South. He was hopeful for the future, but was conflicted about children coming out early without support, remembering his own horrible stories of violence. He agonized over the time he spent hiding, trying to fit in and wanting to be accepted. Towards to end of our conversation about his own turmoil, he realized that a life in the closet does not guarantee your safety. He now lives out and proud in Memphis. Truly poignant.

Before leaving Memphis, I of course had to try the much talked about Dry Ribs. I ended up closing down the famous Rendezvous and walked through downtown admiring the gorgeous architecture and prominent history. I could not help but think about being on the same street, less than a mile away from the Lorraine Motel and Memorial, where Martin Luther King was killed. I must come back another time to pay tribute. Memphis has not seen the last of me.

I hopped on a plane and quickly headed to another place I have never been to, Clinton, South Carolina. The minute I picked up my car and headed down the highway through Greenville, I knew I wanted to film there. What a gorgeous landscape!

The screening at the Presbyterian College screening blew me away. The professors engaged their students, some eager to come and others unsure due to the subject matter. Their professors asked them to confront their preconceived notions and come watch the film. It was a full room. The Q&A was inspired and could have gone for hours. A few of the professors wrote to me and said that their classes should be required to watch Valentine Road. These discussions with college students and young adults are the reason I made this film. They are excited for change and they are making it happen. It's wonderful. I definitely want to know more about South Carolina. It will have to be another time though. Off to Pompano Beach!

Shelli Ainsworth, Stay Then Go - Shreveport, LA

Filmmaker Shelli Ainsworth, touring her film Stay Then Go, checks in with us from her first stop on Southern Circuit:

I'm sitting here on the tarmac in Shreveport, in a little plane in the singular row of A. It's a bright, warm, blue, sunshine-y morning, easy to bask in. Easy to bask in as well, is our experience last night at the Stay Then Go screening at the Robinson Film Center. Thanks to the audience and the staff at the film center for thoroughly warm welcome. Geoff and I met many people from the community there and - so very memorably - people from the Shreveport autism community as well. Mothers, teachers, therapists, young people, old people - all fighting the good fight. What a powerful experience.

Meghan Hochstetler put together a great panel after the screening. I was so grateful to hear from the panelists and the dialogue that the film generated about advocacy, inclusion, and insights from a young man with autism named Trent, who Geoff and I will remember always.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On the Road with 'Mona Lisa is Missing'

From Joe Medeiros (Writer/Director) & Justine Mestichelli Medeiros (Producer) 
of Mona Lisa is Missing.

As filmmakers, being selected for a festival as prestigious as South Arts' Southern Circuit was an honor. We are truly grateful that the selection committee appreciated our film's appeal to its audience. We have traveled with our film to numerous festivals, and we are so impressed with the professionalism, organization and respectful treatment of filmmaker needs that Teresa Hollingsworth and her team at South Arts provided for us.     

We started our travels in Augusta, Georgia at the Morris Museum of Art. Michelle Schulte, Curator of Education and Kevin Grogan, Executive Director and Chief Curator were most accommodating and gracious hosts. And we found the Morris Museum itself to be quite a treat with an impressive collection of local Southern art.  We also learned something new -- that telegraph inventor Samuel B. Morse was a portrait painter of some admirable talent.  Our screening was very well attended. The applause was plentiful and the Q&A lively.  

Onto Clemson University where Professor Amy Monaghan treated us to dinner and introduced us to faculty and local  filmmakers. We had a very respectable turnout of students (on a school night). They really appreciated the humor and animation that infuse our film and gives lives life to our extensive research and Peruggia's life story. Their questions were thoughtful.

Over 200 students and local residents turned out for the morning presentation of Mona Lisa is Missing at Wallace State Community College's Evelyn Burrows Center for the Fine and Performing Arts in Hanceville, Alabama. Our evening screening drew another 50 enthusiastic viewers. Kristen Holmes, Communications and Marketing Director, and her team were full of Southern Hospitality.  The audience was appreciative of the Peruggia family's genuine acceptance of the truth about Vincenzo's motivation for taking the Mona  Lisa.

Our final destination was the Winder Cultural Arts Center in Winder, Georgia. Don Wildsmith,  Director of  Cultural Events and Christopher Childs, Station Manager of  Winder Television, created an audience-friendly environment where the Q&A prompted the comment,  "I came to this documentary screening with some trepidation because docs can be dense with information but yours was so entertaining while being thoroughly informative."

All in all, the Southern Circuit was one of the greatest experiences we've had showing our film. It was fitting that our tour took place during Major League baseball playoffs because with our screenings at the Morris Museum, Clemson University, Wallace State, and in Winder, we not only batted 4-for-4, but each hit was a home run.

Thank you all and best of luck in the future. Your festival, your audiences, and your people behind the scenes are truly the best.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

October's Films and Filmmakers

Holy October! It's hard to believe that we are already one month into this year's tour. With a new month brings three fabulous new films and filmmakers. We welcome Mona Lisa Is Missing, Valentine Road, and Stay Then Go to the circuit. Read on for more about these films, and make sure to check out the entire lineup of the 2014-2015 Southern Circuit Film Schedule.

Joe Medeiros is a writer/filmmaker and is considered the leading expert on the theft of the Mona Lisa. Medeiros’ award-winning documentary Mona Lisa Is Missing has been screened at museums and theaters across the US, and at film festivals in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The film had its television premiere in January in France, Germany, Switzerland and Israel. Medeiros began his career as an advertising copywriter. In 1988, he began working as a joke writer for Jay Leno and remained with Leno for 22 years, with 14 as head writer of the The Tonight Show. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 40 years, film producer Justine Mestichelli Medeiros. They have two children in the entertainment industry.

How did an unassuming housepainter from Italy pull off “the greatest little-known art heist in modern time?” Was his motivation more than money? In Mona Lisa Is Missing, Writer-director Joe Medeiros traces the path of Vincenzo Peruggia, charged with the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from The Louvre, and follows the story of a daughter mourning the father she never knew and a country recovering from old wounds. Combining historical photographs, animation and interviews with Peruggia’s descendants, Medeiros answers why and how the man called “Macaroni” by his French co-workers absconded with and kept the legendary painting for two years. This riveting, often humorous documentary portrays a man struggling to find his way in the world and make his family proud. Most touching are the scenes of Peruggia’s 84-year-old daughter, Celestina, who grew up on stories about her father and longed for the truth.

Oct 07: Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA
Oct 08: Clemson University, Clemson, SC
Oct 09: Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, AL
Oct 12: Winder Cultural Arts Center, Winder, GA

Marta Cunningham is an accomplished actor turned first-time filmmaker. At the age of 14, Cunningham danced with the company at The Peninsula Ballet Theater. She was awarded the prestigious Baker Scholarship at Georgetown University, where she studied English Literature. She then moved to Los Angeles where she worked as an actress, writer, dancer, and choreographer before focusing on directing and producing. A native of Northern California, she was so moved by the story of Lawrence King’s murder that she became embedded in Oxnard and soon began filming those whose lives were touched by the tragedy. The result would be Valentine Road, a feature length documentary that was selected to compete in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and premiered on HBO in October of 2013.

At the height of the bullying scandal that rocked the U.S. in 2008, a 15-year-old boy named Larry King asked another boy to be his valentine in a suburban schoolyard in California. The next day Larry was dead, shot in cold blood by his 14-year-old crush Brandon McInerney. At turns shocking, devastating, and outrageous, Valentine Road bores deeply into the homophobia, sexism, racism, and class-struggle that affect everyday American life – and reveals an American justice system that is utterly unprepared to deal with the realities of teenage crime and punishment. Directed by first-time feature documentarian Marta Cunningham, Valentine Road is an unforgettable exposé of society’s pervasive and deadly intolerance of young people who don’t conform to its gender “norms.” World premiered at Sundance 2013, this film will both break your heart and fire you up into action.

Oct 15: Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford, GA
Oct 16: Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC
Oct 18: Creative City Collaborative, Pompano Beach, FL
Oct 20: East Tennessee State University, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, Johnson City, TN
Oct 22: Indie Memphis, Memphis, TN
Oct 23: Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts, Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Shelli Ainsworth is a Minnesota-based artist whose work in experimental theater and film has earned her national recognition. Ainsworth began her artistic career as a playwright working in experimental theater. With an extensive background as a playwright, director and multi-media artist, she was a frequent collaborator with the acclaimed Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis. Ainsworth’s short narrative films have been seen in festivals and museums in the United States and Europe. Stay Then Go is her first feature and is an official selection of numerous prestigious film festivals including Provincetown Film Festival, Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the Duluth/Superior Film Festival. While Ainsworth lives and works in Minneapolis, she has an affinity for the American South, particularly the central and coastal regions of Mississippi, where her father’s family lived and worked for many generations. Ainsworth has three children.

As Stay Then Go begins, Marion (Janel Moloney, The West Wing) awaits her only son Eddie (rising British star Matt Kane, The Last of Robin Hood) in the Emergency Room after a rollerblading tumble. Marion has always taken charge with Eddie, been there to protect him no matter what. But today, as a series of unusual events keep her frustratingly isolated from him, she is left alone to try to comprehend the twists and turns that brought her to this juncture.

Oct 16: Robinson Film Center, Shreveport, LA
Oct 17: Union College, Barbourville, KY
Oct 18: The Tennessee Valley Art Association/Ritz Theatre, Sheffield, AL
Oct 21: Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
Oct 23: Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, Madison, GA
Oct 24: City of Hapeville, Hapeville, GA

Monday, October 06, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - Auburn, AL

We have the final post from filmmaker Katie Damien's tour of the Southern Circuit, with her work My Toxic Backyard:

The last screening at Auburn was fantastic. Had a packed house full of students in a beautiful screening location. Got to see cotton plants and listened to some great live music on a terrace. This concludes my amazingly awesome journey on the southern circuit.