Friday, March 09, 2007

Steven Ross - Day 5

I leave Clemson and head to the center of the state to Columbia, SC. As I approach Columbia, the state capital, I get a little hungry and prompted by many billboards, I stop for barbeque at the well-advertised Maurice's Bar BQ. After placing my order at the counter - it is a big barn of a restaurant - I take note of a display case and books for sale. Unwittingly, I have landed in the establishment, part of a major chain, of one Maurice Bessinger. In West Columbia, he opened his flagship Piggie Park restaurant, the headquarters of Maurice's Gourmet Barbeque, in 1953. Outside that restaurant, along with an enormous sign proclaiming Maurice's has the "world best barbeque," there's a big Confederate flag, biblical quotes and a sign proclaiming Buchanan for President. Go inside and you'll find conservative political and religious tracts, including one claiming blacks were blessed to have been brought to America in slavery. And I thought shopping at WalMarts was politically incorrect.

In the evening, my films will screen at the Nickolodeon Theater, Columbia's sole art cinema house. Small and comfortable, it sits a few hundred yards from the Capital Building. Some may recall the controversy a few years back when the Confederate Flag was ordered off of the top that building. I am met by Larry Hembree who has been running the Nickelodeon since 1979. Our time together is short as he is off to catch a flight to New York where a friend/filmmaker is premiering his new film of the legendary Brother Theodore, a monologuist and comedian known for rambling, stream of consciousness dialogues which he called "stand up tragedy." Larry leaves me in good hands, his new assistant, Andy Smith.

I meet Andy across the street at the local hot spot restaurant, Hunters and Gatherers. I discover that Andy got his M.A. in Film Studies at UCLA several years ago. Eschewing the offer to continue in UCLA's Ph.D program, he, a South Carolinean, decided to return home. What a great spirit he has. After being the primary assistant in the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor (he just lost by a mere 3000 votes - not bad in this neck of the "red" woods), he has signed on to be part of the new Nickelodeon. This non-profit local gem of an enterprise has been fighting the fight to bring interesting films for a long time. And now, they have received state funding to move the theater into bigger and better digs on the other side of the Capital. There will be two screens and the potential for really growing the film culture in Columbia is there. This year, Andy is launching a new film festival at the Nickelodeon, the IndyGrits festival. My guess is that in five years, Columbia will have a small, but special name as an independent film venue.

At the screening, there is a brother and sister who had spent a substantial part of their childhood growing up in Monrovia. Their parents were doing missionary work and had been part of a radio station, ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa). ELWA was a major source of independent and balanced news for all segments of the population before being bombed by President Doe in early July 1990. This station was also a training center for most of Liberia's prominent broadcasters. I am no longer surprised by who you might meet on the road when you show your film.

After the screening, Andy and I go for a beer. We walk by the Capital, past the large statue of Strom Thurmond, and have a final beer together.

Off to Beaufort on the coast.