Monday, May 04, 2015

Michael Graziano of Resistance visits Union College and The Tennessee Valley Art Association

From Filmmaker Michael Graziano of Resistance:

I've now passed the halfway point on the tour and it's been great.  After Madison, GA I headed, to quote Daniel Day Lewis from "Last of The Mohicans", east toward Kan-tuck-kee to Union College in Barbourville, KY.

Union College is a small liberal arts school tucked into a residential section of an Eastern Kentucky hamlet. Barbourville has a sleepy, all-American feel that is nicely disrupted/punctuated by a number of large murals on the sides of downtown buildings. I especially like this rendering of a wistful, if a bit haggard looking, frontiersman surveying a verdant Appalachian valley (Daniel Boone maybe?). This tile work inexplicably graces the exterior wall of a Subway sandwich shop. Another notable example is comprised of a large silhouetted face off between two founding fathers. I stared at this for a while, wondering about its genesis and why the owner of a blue sedan had chosen to park so closely to it, thereby ruining what could've been a great photo. Lincoln seems to loom (ever so slightly) over Washington. Washington, for his part, appears a bit surprised by this and has an upward articulation that suggests both a 'bowed up' confrontational posture and an unsteady weight-shifted-to-the-back-of-his-heels-I-don't-like-the-looks-of-this-guy attitude. I wonder if this was intentional?  Did the artist intend to give Lincoln (a Kentucky native) the upper head? We may never know...

The screening was on campus and was well attended by members of the school and the broader community. The film played well and we had wide ranging discussion after.

From there I traveled south to Sheffield, AL. Sheffield is part of a cluster of small and medium sized towns in North Alabama including Florence, Tuscumbia (home of Helen Keller) and Muscle Shoals (home to a number of influential musicians and musical acts). The film played in a wonderfully restored old theater in Sheffield called The Ritz. The Ritz, along with all the other theaters in the area, was at one time owned by the Rosenbaum family. A highlight for me and a nice connection to film history was seeing the Frank Lloyd Wright designed former home of said Rosenbaums - family of renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. The hosts from the Tennessee Valley Arts Association were the picture of gracious hospitality and the screening unfurled accordingly. I have three stops left and will report back on those soon.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Michael Graziano of Resistance visits Madison, GA

From Filmmaker Michael Graziano of Resistance:

 My tour started last night in the picturesque town of Madison, GA.  There was a great turnout and lively discussion that continued for some time in the reception room after the screening.

The highlight of the stop, apart from the kind and hospitable people, was the building where the screening was held. The structure is a striking 19th century red brick affair that used to be a school house - side note and interesting connection to film history: Oliver Hardy began school there in first grade, and continued for some time before Stan Laurel's became the lanky, hapless counterpoint to Hardy's rotund malcontentment. The dark-polished wood paneling and chandelier (all 19th C. originals) of the auditorium were equal to the building's exterior. The camera on my phone doesn't do the space justice.

I got to Madison early and spent a couple hours killing time. Nearly everything in the sleepy town center closed by 5pm, so instead of working at a cafe or lunch counter like I'd planned, I had the good fortune of wandering onto the town's "Wellness Trail". A lovely path lined by a creek on one side, and carefully labeled trees and other plants throughout. I made it about halfway around the trail when I arrived at the "Old Cemetery". The cemetery was full of former Confederate soldiers, including a not insignificant plot of "Unknowns". The day was warm and breezy and the small rebel flags that someone or a group had placed to mark each confederate grave, never billowed but shrugged and drooped beside the weathered headstones. I couldn't help but think of Faulkner's admonition that, "The past is never dead. It's not even past". The scene offered a poignant frame for thinking about lots of things, not least of which is the Southern Circuit tour of Independent Films, and my good fortune for being invited to join it.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Noel Schwerin of A Kind of Order visits Pompano Beach, Indie Memphis, and Auburn University

From Filmmaker Noel Schwerin of A Kind of Order:

Well, it was sunny, and the small audience that had heard about the film stayed for a lengthy Q&A with one viewer (a high school teacher) pressing for greater outreach for films like IDEAL, and offering his educational networks to the organizer. There are certainly audiences in southern Florida…I invite them to contact me to see the film and hear about the others in the Circuit!

Last night’s screening with Indie Memphis at the Screen on the Square was such a pleasure! The screen was big, the sound was great and the projected image was perfect. More importantly, members of the board of directors at Indie Memphis worked hard to reach out to a variety of communities, and the post film discussion was hugely enriched by their efforts. Thank You! The audience included, for instance, a retired correctional officer whose son had been an offender, the director and volunteers of a Memphis justice organization, MidSouth Peace and Justice Center, and many other curious and knowledgeable community members. Diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, knowledge about prison and in their professions, it was an audience that shared its varied perspective and experiences with each other and with me. Just the kind of screening that helps move the conversation about the role of prison in America!

Now at my final stop - and the final screening of this year’s Circuit - the beautiful Jule Collins Smith Museum at Auburn University. A land grant school with a great football team (my sons tell me), the school has a very active film program at the museum. While exam week kept many students away, an informed, interested and active group of community members came and shared comments, questions and support for the Southern Circuit.

It’s been a fascinating (and beautiful) tour of the south - an opportunity and access I could not have organized on my own, and I have been thrilled and honored to be a part of it!

Noel Schwerin of A Kind of Order visits Oxford College Of Emory University and Presbyterian College

From filmmaker Noel Schwerin of A Kind of Order:

My first stop on the Southern Circuit was Oxford College of Emory University. Lovely small town Georgia, so friendly and relaxed, and to a Californian, SO GREEN! At Oxford, intrepid English Professor Stacy Bell teaches a memoir writing class where her students visit and share life stories with inmates at a woman’s prison. Visiting her class was great; we could jump right into the issues, rewards and obstacles to working with the incarcerated and the corrections bureaucracy.

Noel Schwerin (L) and Professor Stacy Bell (R) in class.

Later my film showed in the chapel to a large and appreciative audience. (It is so satisfying to hear a crowd laugh and be told later they cried as well.) Thanks to English Professor Molly McGehee for the kind introduction and for bringing the Southern Circuit to Oxford!

Next: Presbyterian College in Clinton SC. It may be the end of the term, but PC people show up! I had a fascinating (and delicious) dinner with four faculty before being greeted by a big room of attentive students. (No cell phones or snoring…that’s good at this time of year, right?) There is nothing simple about a conversation about racial ordering anywhere, and maybe especially in Clinton SC, but college students really are open and they really want to talk about their conflicts, feelings and fears. Thank you PC.

Off to Pompano Beach, FL… I hear it’s sunny there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Danielle Beverly from Old South visits Presbyterian College

From filmmaker Danielle Beverly of Old South:

Presbyterian College in rural Clinton SC hosted the final #‎SouthernCircuit stop of Old South. The college was born from the ruin of The Civil War and has deep Southern roots. It was the largest audience yet, for the tour. Students just kept packing the tiny room. Several football players even carried in a couch and plopped it down right in front.

What had seemed like a sleepy campus when I arrived at 5pm, now appeared to have 20% of the student body in the room. Students had been buzzing about the film I was told, and they were ready.

Many members of the Greek community attended - including a large number of KA fraternity members - as well as non-fraternity/sorority students. The conversation was at times tough, but it yielded a deeper understanding for all. It spoke well about the students that they were able to share truthfully to one another about how race and complications around legacy, impact their personal and campus lives.

Myself and faculty continued to talk with students one on one, for hours after the lights came up. A success. Special thanks to Dr. Terry Barr, Professor of English, who arranged a dinner with a young KA member, a student athlete, and several faculty members before the screening. He also introduced the film, as seen in the photo.

As this is my final blog post, I want to use it to thank Southern Circuit and South Arts for all that they do. This is the most meaningful way to screen my documentaries. As a filmmaker and as a professor, I am committed to the power that film can bring to open minds, spur difficult conversations, and touch audiences, particularly students. Southern Circuit is essential.

...until next time, with the next film....

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jesse Roesler from The Starfish Throwers visits Clemson University.

From Filmmaker Jesse Roesler of The Starfish Throwers:

The very first stop on the Southern Circuit Tour for The Starfish Throwers was at Clemson University in South Carolina. Our wonderful host Amy Monaghan showed me the campus and introduced me to several film students before and after our screening.

We had a great screening with a highly engaged, mostly student audience - including a friend of Katie Stagliano's who was actually featured in the film! A wonderful conversation followed the screening about how the film was made, and ultimately turned to the state of independent film-making and how students could get started making indie motion pictures.

It was especially rewarding to connect with young people who were considering making a film of their own. Thanks to the Southern Circuit for introducing us to our new friends in Clemson (several pictured below with their #ThrowStarfish messages!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Danielle Beverly from Old South visits Oxford College

From Filmmaker Danielle Beverly of Old South: 

Oxford College is the small, rural outpost an hour away from big sister Emory University in urban Atlanta. With just around 900 students, it’s a lovely, tiny, but bustling campus. My host Dr. Margaret “Molly” McGehee, arranged a dinner prior to the screening, and as we walked through the student cafeteria I could see and hear how connected students were with one another. I smiled as I caught snippets of their animated conversations (and jealously eyed their frozen yogurt machine.)

Dr. McGehee invited several faculty, staff and students to a small dinner before the screening. Talk quickly turned to Greek and race issues on their campus, and other colleges. No small talk was exchanged. Rather each of the women took a turn to share illuminating personal stories. A stranger and their guest, I was grateful for such generous conversation, which provided me salient insight into their college and wider experiences, in advance of the post-screening Q&A.

Sated by meaningful conversation, and a healthy (yay) salmon dinner, we took this photo before heading to the screening.

I didn’t quite believe my host Molly McGehee, when she warned that the huge gymnasium theatre would be pretty full. But she was right. I took this photo, as folks still had 10 minutes to arrive.

Oxford College is special in that it is reserved for freshman and sophomores only. It provides a focused, intensive liberal arts education that primes first and second year students for the move later to Emory’s more sprawling campus in Atlanta. This made me all the more impressed with the deep and sometimes heated discussion about racial dynamics, after the screening of Old South. I asked for “real talk” and these underclassmen brought it.  Students felt empowered to share strongly held opinions, and then those impressions were refuted and challenged by others. In this vigorous back and forth exchange, they dialogued intelligently and shared passionately with each other, even as they respected one another. This was, by far, one of the best post-screening conversations of the Old South tour. I learned so much from this student body.

A week later, I received an email from an Oxford student: “Black Student Alliance had a discussion on Race and Greek Life during our general meeting and many of our talking points came from the film and Q&A afterward.”  I had hoped the film would resonate with students, and it appears it has at Oxford College. Greatly humbled.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Pete Tedrow from The Starfish Throwers visits Winder Cultural Arts Center, Morris Museum of Art, Wallace State Community College

From Impact Producer Pete Tedrow of The Starfish Throwers:

Winder, Georgia - Sunday, March 15, 2015
The second stop on our Southern Circuit Tour, and my first as Impact Producer, landed me in the lovely small town of Winder, Georgia. The Winder Cultural Arts Center is a true gem. Cultural Arts Director Don Wildsmith and film programmer Christopher Childs of Wilder Television make an excellent team.

The Q&A led Christopher after the film showed just how engaged and well-versed Winder audiences are with documentaries and independent film in general.  It was a special pleasure to have members of the local First United Methodist Church youth group in attendance, and to chat with them more after the Q&A. It’s young people like them who can inspire a generation of young people to throw starfish and make a difference in their own communities.

Augusta, Georgia - Tuesday, March 17, 2015
On the banks of the historic Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia, lies the Morris Museum of Art, the third stop on our tour. Director Kevin Grogan and Michelle Schulte, Curator of Education, were gracious hosts! Even though it was St. Patrick’s Day and over 80 degrees outside, it didn’t stop a highly engaged audience from attending our screening.

Katie Stagliano’s story was especially moving to the seniors in the audience - always so uplifting to see how a young girl can inspire older adults to work for positive change in their communities. Being that Katie lives just a few hours to the East in Summerville, SC, there was definitely some southern pride in the room.

Hanceville, Alabama - Thursday, March 19, 2015
The last stop for The Starfish Throwers on the tour was the small Alabama town of Hanceville. Wallace State Community College and its Burrow Center are top-notch facilities! Staff writer Russell Moore and the whole team at Wallace State (Gail, Jesse, Stefany) helped run two very smooth screenings, one in the morning and one in the early evening.

Most impressive, though, were the students of Wallace State. I had the pleasure to chat with many of them after the morning screening—hearing about how they themselves throw starfish, and how inspired they are to begin lives in which they do just that through their future work as doctors, nurses, and artists. Young people like these definitely give me hope that the future has good things in store for all of us.