Sunday, November 04, 2007

On the road

I made it to my Disappearances screening at HIGH POINT, NC, by the way, and was pleasantly surprised by the turnout and reception to the film. The program director, Louisa Hart, had prepared me for a small turnout and said that the attendance
in the series so far numbered about 15--this is their first year. But about 35 people showed up. I gave my intro, comparing the picture to a western and adding in the ways in which it being a New Engkand picture made it a different kind of western, steeped in elements like generations of family, settled community, and a rich cultural past that generally didn;'t show up on the edge of the western frontier until later. And I talked up the film's magical realism.

A local NC actor with whom I'd corresponded but never met showed up and we went out for dinner once the show started. I told him I felt that I had said the wrong things in the intro since people didn't seem to keen on any of it. I said I expected a cool repsonse, at best. But we came back for the end of the show and the crowd responded great--better than I'd dreamed possible. And they bought a raft of DVD's--always a good sign. A 92 year-old veteran of the west Virginia coal mines came uo afterwards and talked about his families participation in the illegal booze business back in the 20's and 30's. A 12 year old kid asked most of the questions during the Q & A--and he seemed satisfied with the film--and my answers. His mom bought him a DVD, too.

High Point is best known as a place where thousands of furniture buyers show up twice a year for mammouth showcases in the multi-million square foot showrooms that abut the theater. During the rest of the year, things apparently stay pretty quiet. The outskirts of town are filled with modern malls, however, and what appears to be a thriving retail and restaurant scene.

I told the High Point crowd that my next planned film, They Don't Dance Much, is based on an only novel by a now-deceased newspaperman from Greensboro, just 8 miles down the road. The fact that I have a southern script in my back pocket is allowing me to meet a number of potential supporters and/or participants on the tour.

One of those people materialized unexpectedly at the ASHEVILLE, NC screening. A former Hollywood director took me out to dinner afterwards and offered to involve the college where he now teaches in the production of They Don't Dance Much. He said he mobilize experienced students and faculty along with some equipment and who knows what else? This was a good contact, although, strangely, I'd met the director at his home in LA in 1989, when I was starting to prepare my first feature. I didn't know anybody or anything about the movie business and he kindly allowed me to come by his place and ask questions. It's a small world.

The local Southern Circuit organizer and director of the Media Arts Project, Alison Watson, had her work cut out for her, mobilizing an audience for this Halloween screening. The crowd was small but it was great to hear about all she's doing for area media artists--and we talked about doing something again in the future. The theater was terrific and everybody was good to work with. Back at the hotel pandemonium reigned as hundreds of Haloween costumed young people showed up, beer coolers in tow, for a Widespread Panic concert. The final party cresecendo peaked between 2 and 4am, with lots of revery and good cheer.

The CLEMSON screening went smoothly and I joined organzer and Clemson faculty member Amy Monaghan for dinner before the show. Several current and former students also joined us--and it interesting to hear about the fledgling film studies program there. Amy is well-versed in film and has also worked at places like the Brattle Theater in Cambridge. So she knows the indie scene, too. The audience of about fifty consisted of mostly students and there were a number of good queestions. In retrospect, i wished I'd planned to have Amy join me up front to help solicit and frame questions that suited the classes she's teaching. But the session went fine and one student expressed interest in working on my next picture as an intern. And she said she liked the film.

CHARLESTON was a blast. I spent the afternoon with South Carolina-based producer Peter Wentworth who took me to the College of Charleston's John Rivers Communication Museum where we spent more than an hour talking with Rick Zender an amzing source of information about the film, television, radio, and live music scenes in an around Charleston for the past century. They Don't Dance Much is set at an early 1950's roadhouse--and we got to lay our eyes on an authentic juke box from the period, among other things. I'm hoping that Peter Wentworth will help produce the picture--and that we'll shoot it in the Carolinas or Georgia. This will be a new move for me, outside of New England. I shot my third feature, The Year That Trembled in Ohio but it was for producers there. They Don;t Dance Much will be my first feature which I produce outside of Vermont.

We went to dinner with Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art director, Mark Sloan. Mark does extraordinary visdionary work, curating a ground breaking exhibition program and making opportuntites available to other artists as well. He gave me a book, Wild, Weird, and Wonderful, that he wrote about circuses that rolled through Brockton, Mass. during the early 20th century and were photographed by F.W. Glasier. It's a beautiful and fascinating book--and Mark knew of my involvement as co-founder of the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus during the mid-80's, an ambitious grass-roots circus starring kids who go on the road each summer under a 500 seat tent.

Peter Wentworth's wife, Margery, also joined us for dinner and added a lively dimension, as South Carolina's poet laureate. The whole afternoon and evening, set against the respendent backdrop of old Charleston, were a delight. Oh, right, I almost forgot to mention the screening, which went great. A very responsive and thoughtful audience seemed to "get" the film and they asked a number of stimulating questions. Although no one yet has commented on the fact that the film's French-Canadian villain, Carcajou (played by Lothaire Bluteau) wears both Union and Confderate officer's uniforms in two different scenes. Maybe they simply had it figured out. Thanks to Mark and also to Katie Lee who got me set up at the fine campus guest house and ran the tech part of the program, never an easy task when a director adjusts picture and sound levels to the point of distraction.

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA also produced an enthusiastic modest-sized crowd that stayed around for a lengthy Q & A--and bought a raft of DVD's. The event was sponsored by a new film series group, mostly consisting of local media makers and screenwriters. What they're doing is quite exciting--screening work by each other and other area filmmakers--and building audience for local work. If I'd had a little more time, it would have been interesting to conduct a screenwriting workshop while I was there.

I took my day off in New Orleans, always a treat. The city seems to be gearing up to its former glory, with an energetic music scene along Bourbon Street and a terrific new version of Waiting for Godot, set against the 9th ward's wait for FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.