Sunday, November 16, 2008

Auburn University, AL: Art and Academia

“tea gets transformed into a new way of addressing an age-old problem...”

Day 3: November 11th
AUBURN, AL: Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art

The drive from New Orleans to Auburn was LONG. At just over 5 hours, it swept away the majority of our afternoon. When we arrived at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, we were struck by the beautiful exterior. There was a lake in front. In the back, there was a reflecting pool with a large abstract bronze sculpture prominently displayed behind it.

When we met our contact Scott Bishop, a woman who coincidentally shares the name of the director Scott Chamberlin Hoyt, we asked her how many people typically show up to these screenings. She said that if they had 30 people, that would be a good turn-out.

After a delicious salad at the café, we proceeded into the theater, where Scott, despite her confessed fear of public speaking, gave a flawless introduction to the film. She was the first host to speak of how the Southern Circuit originated; it began in 1975 as a way to highlight the achievements of the most talented independent filmmakers, and also to engage the audience in discourse through question and answer sessions. Since then it has visited 44 communities in the Southern United States.

With an audience of 50 people, far higher than the expected 30, the film was a hit. Almost everyone in the audience stayed for the question and answer, and some interesting questions were raised. One man aptly observed that the film examines the age-old idea of reflecting on life and slowing things down, and he noted that embedded in the film is the notion that “tea gets transformed into a new way of addressing that age-old problem”. The director concurs: slowing down and taking time to pause allows one to see more clearly, and that's what The Meaning of Tea is all about! Another film watcher asked, “Does it smell like tea when standing in the tea fields?” Scott replied that he had never been in a tea field while it was flowering, but that when he has been there, he has never detected anything like the aroma tea itself.

There were a fair number of students in the audience, something that we have not experienced in the past. One student asked, “In all your experiences, was there one tea experience, or something about the way it was prepared that stuck with you?” Scott told a story about a very rare tea served to him by Taiwanese Tea-Master Mr. Lin that tasted like a plum brandy. It was a forty-year-old aged Oolong, cured over 600 times from the charcoal wood of the dragon fruit tree.

Another student commented that the film was beautiful and in fact “visually perfect”, and asked how many hours of footage there were to which Scott responded, “We shot 120 hours of footage including 12 hours of 16mm film to bring up production values. The film was later edited down to 74 minutes. "I was very well supported, by the way, with recent graduates from the New York University Film School. So they were my team.”

Auburn University was a very pleasant experience. The audience, although a bit more reserved than some, were very focused, and asked more informational questions than any of our audiences in the past. Whether that was because of the academic environment cannot be known for sure, but we appreciated their deep insight and respectful attention.