Friday, November 16, 2007

The rest of my trip

Here are some random notes from the rest of my Southern Circuit tour.

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI

After a terrific day spent in New Orleans, walking around the French Quarter and reading from Tennessee Williams' notebooks in a used bookstore on Decatur, I drove to Jackson, Mississipi for a screening. The date was sparesely attended but the people who came had good questions. And, Austin, my host, was a pleasure to meet.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

I flew from Jackson to Atlanta, then up to Louisville. What a city! I really enjoyed my time there. Indie Producer Gill Holland showed me around town for an entire afternoon and I came to appreciate what a great cultural city it it--with a ballet, opera, museums, galleries, indie film, and, of course, the Actors Theater of Lousiville. Gill introduced me to some people and I saw quite a bit of the city. The screening went very well with a sizable crowd at the extraordinary Kentucky Center. Everybody at the Kentucky Center was great. Q & A lasted till we had to leave--and responses to Disappearances were complex and illuminating to me, as they sometimes are, providing new revelations and dimensions of the film to me. I'd love to come back here.

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA

The screening here was pleasant, with a terriifc response--but another very small crowd. I discussed audience development ideas with the presenters afterwards--and said I'd try to put together a memo affering ideas that might be useful for futuire programs. The Southern Circuit is a terrific program -- the only one of its kind in the U.S.--and it deserves to continue, with
substantial and vibrant audiences. And all of the sponsoring organizations are very committed to the idea. In a number of the places I visited, the shows were well attended. But in several, the crowds were small and might benefit from some coorinated effort to build them.

I arrived in Hollywood and had the better part of the afternoon to myself. I'd received an e-mail when I arrived from a former student who's developing a documentary with me on kids in a variety of school settings. She was about to visit some schools in the South Bronx and we discussed some issues of race. She'd had a tense confrontation that day.

Early in my Southern Circuit trip a progressive South Carolina friend remarked to me that some southern racial attitudes had not changed much--something that I hadn't really noticed much, perhaps because I was largely focused on driving, flying, and screening. And, of course, my home state of Vermont, which prides itself on its progressivism, has a pretty mixed record on race. I don't look at the south as the place where racial issues are unresolved--far from it. Boston and New England, in general, have a long way to go. As does the rest of the country. My second feature film, A Stranger in the Kingdom, was inspired by the state's most notorious racial incident and while touring the film I became aware of many other incidents, including a number of them that occured during the time I was on the road. The challenge of bridging the racial gap in America remains daunting.

But, in Florida, I took the afternoon off, walked around Hollywood and went to a YMCA to work out. And I made a point of noting observations that had anything to do with race. Here's some of what I observed:

I watched twice as white men talked non-stop to uninterested blacks who got caught in their line of fire. One fellow was holding forth for a half hour while I waited for my shuttle and ate continental breakfast at the hotel. The black couple was practically wilting under his rap about immigrants, taxes, and his experiences buying various kinds of chain saws and pick-up trucks. At one point he explained that he likes to talk and it doesn't really matter to whom. And that he thought a guy
he'd met the night before might have been there for breakfast but he wasn't so he talked to the couple instead. They noded and seemed to understand.

The second case was a young black woman airport security guard having to listen to her white co-worker who just talked
about nothing in particular--except it was all very opinionated.

Both guys were well-meaning--but seemed to expect that the black folks to they talked were cool being on the receiving end of one-way conversations. It was kind of funny. Maybe I mis-read both situations but I don't think so.

The Hollywood YMCA had a racially mixed race crowd--about 2/3 black. The mixed race kids were dancing and playing basketball. Seemed to get along well. In the steam bath I decided to strike up a conversation with a black guy, probably in his forties. And he opened up like you wouldn't believe. About municipal government, home costs, taxes, the losing cause
of the arts in downtown, and his experiences in various southern states with allergies and pollen.

Prior to my making contact, he seemed closed down and kept to himself but once I made a couple of comments he was off and running. Back at my locker, I asked another black guy, a young African-accented guy in his late 20's--what he was listening to on an I-pod. He was startled by my question. I tried to keep it light, just wanting to make contact.

"You ain't going to like it," he said.

"No, It's fine," I said.

"Well, I got Guns and Roses, Megadeth, MArilyn Manson, and Ozzie Ozborne." he said.

"Cool," I said.

Out in the lobby a white girl in her late teens was holding forth with some black girls. "And then she wanted to know where Gloria Estefan lived," said the white girl. "What did she think I was? A celebrity whore?"

One of the black girls laughed, then turned to another. "So what happened to Jimmy?"

"He shot this guy in the arm." said the other black girl. "They gave him four months in jail."

My final onservation occured after I dropped off my rental car and made my way to the shuttle to the airline. An upbeat Hispanic guy bounded from his bus with a bounce in his step--to help carry my excessive (and obsessive) burden of baggage (mostly books in the unlikely event I find time for script development). Anyway, a nice guy and he hefted a couple of bags up into the bus for me.

On the bus, a middle aged white guy was standing in the middle of everything. The Hispanic driver asked him to kindly take a seat. The white guy refused and became immediately adamant. The driver repeated his request, since the white guy was blocking people who were trying to get on the bus. The white guy refused to budge and called the driver, in his late 30's, "boy."

The driver was ready to slug the guy but backed off and went to his driver's seat, saying that he needed to start driving before he did something he'd regret. The white guy just kept baiting the Hispanic during the drive, telling the driver, among other things, that he was stupid and should just go back to where he came from. The dynamics had nothing to do with race but the white chose to make them into something racial.

I don't know why I chose to include this--except that it's what I noted in my tour diary. And it doesn't suggest anything other than what occured in these isolated incidents. I sometimes observe conversations and behaviors and take notes on them for script development.

I enjoyed my Southern Circuit tour and hope to do it again sometime. I was able to experience my film in new wayts with audiences here. The program is important--and has more potential. I made good contacts that I'll maintain--and I hope to come back here to shoot my next film.

Thanks so much to everybody that made the trip possible.