Wednesday, November 19, 2008

#10, and a Bit of Closure.

#10: The Arts Council of Central Louisiana, Alexandria, LA
And so it came to an end... Fittingly, another six-hour-long drive in our Pontiac Grand Prix through the flat fields and darkening skies of Central Louisiana. We chose highways over backroads, our bodies exhausted from doing so little (how is this possible?) for so long. A quick arrival seemed best, although quick is an operative descriptor.
The sun set over Alexandria in a curious foggy fashion, leaving us entirely uncertain as to what we were entering. There were pick-ups tailgating us, cops at every underpass, and the promise of an ending of some sort in sight. After a small amount of circling the seemingly empty streets of downtown Alexandria, we parked behind a police cruiser and crossed the street to the Giant and Beautiful Performing Arts Center that would serve as our final port.
My jaw dropped in entering this space, for while I'd certainly been to ballets and orchestra recitals, I'd never expected (or thought to want?) to see my own films playing in such a place. It seemed impossible - the screen was set far back on the stage from the audience, the sound system was better suited to concerts than mono sound, and it all felt rather proper. Hard to know how my underwear/mask recital would go down.
After a bit of technician-talking, my lens changed and all seemed possible, a redux of the August show in some hyperbolized fashion. As we'd been doing previously, we set the projector on a stand in the fourth row of the theater, ran a cable to the mixer, lowered the screen, and invited the audience to sit close close close.
The audience, as it was, was the oldest we'd had thus far - not a soul under 45 (except for the young girl with her mom, and they left during the performance). All of us were pretty excited about this fact, for while we'd gotten used to the variability of spaces and turn-outs and audiences on the tour, we'd yet to arrive at this particular constellation. The reggae-ish music from Suriname that we'd been playing before every show felt like a curiosity all of a sudden, and I could feel that sentiment creeping into my words as I gave my standard introduction to the films.
Eighty minutes later, the screening was over, and our host stood up to give one of the sweetest declarations that we'd heard thus far (please forgive the paraphrasing):
"Before we bring Ben and Brigid and Benjen up to answer your questions, I wanted to say something. Those of us in the Louisiana Arts Council frequently discuss the terms of art - what it is, who it's for, and how we go about supporting it, especially in these times. The work that is supported tends to be local and/or quite accessible, and the place of art for art's sake is less frequently addressed. We're proud to support the Southern Circuit tour for this very reason - to have the chance to bring these films to you, to have a guy in a Nixon mask wearing his underwear and speaking into a vocoder - if that's not unfamiliar and challenging in Central Louisiana, then I don't know what is. Thank you for your support."
While I might propose a bit of a more nuanced interpretation of what I would hope my art is up to (and the fact that the mask isn't quite of Nixon), the sentiment was really touching, and really telling, of the importance of not only our place in this tour but of Southern Circuit in general.
As an artist who's been touring with his films and performances for the last several years in America, Europe, and beyond, it's pretty clear to me what the challenges are to a program like this. Audiences aren't guaranteed, venues are erratic, hospitality is sometimes lacking (and sometimes overflowing - as was the case here with Nicole and David!), and need I point to the Long Drives again? However, as was apparent during our time traversing the South (and is more apparent now in hindsight), the opportunity to present a wide array of work to audiences that might never seek it out is a great one indeed. With exception to the Nickelodeon in Columbia, the venues we screened in are not spaces that I would have otherwise arrived at, and the heads that made it to the shows would likewise never have come across our work. This last point might sound elitist, but the fact of 16mm projection and distribution in an art-and-cinema context all but necessitates a self-selecting audience. The dialogue that sprang out of these screenings, between audiences and us and between ourselves and beyond, coupled with the chance for me to show my friend Benjen how his own filmic self lives on, was invaluable. May it continue to grow.
And so: closure. Thanks to our hosts and our new friends and all of those brave enough to ask questions. Thanks to Southern Circuit and Allen Bell for setting this up, and thanks for Benjen and Brigid for being a part of this. The reason I make films is rarely the same reason I have for screening them, and the same applies to touring. I travel with my films to see how they live once they leave my hands, and inasmuch as I made them, I tour with my films so that I can see the world that is watching them...