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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Katie Damien, My Toxic Backyard - Johnson City & Memphis, TN

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

Day 5
Soaking up as much of the Florida sun as I can before heading to Johnson City Tennessee tomorrow. Excited to meet the folks at ETSU.

Day 6:
East Tennessee State University turned their screening into an interactive event complete with student lead environmental groups with booths and a selfie station where people could pose in front of a giant poster!  And they drew one of the largest crowds they've ever had for a screening at nearly 200 people. Another successful screening!

Day 7:
Flew into Memphis with just enough time to have some amazing food at a restaurant in an alley, in a basement. I had to circle the block before I could find it, but it was worth it! Can't wait for the screening tomorrow.

Day 8:
Great screening at a real movie theater in Memphis! Saw the national civil rights Museum. It was very moving. What a city.

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.