Monday, September 14, 2009

Driving toward Ocean Springs MS, I am reminded how special this tour is. I have been showing the film in festivals and theaters across the country for a while now and it is a huge undertaking to show up on short notice and try to get the word out about a screening. That is what makes the Southern Tour so remarkable because there is a support structure and people who are already passionate about film, and in particular about the films selected for the tour.
One of those people is Eric Zala of The Mary C O’Keefe Cultural Center. He is the nicest guy you could ever meet and the best advocate a filmmaker can hope for, mostly because he is a filmmaker himself (more on that later) but also because he is passionate about the Mary C (as it is known) and about his community.
I arrive at the Mary C after doing two NPR interviews, just in time to do a TV interview for the local news. Eric is on top of it! Knowing how important it is to get the word out, he has organized a host of press to promote the screening.
Eric gives me a tour of the Mary C, and I am impressed by what this arts center is able to accomplish. They have a theatre where they show film, have concerts, plays and a host of other activities, but they also have a recording studio, painting studios, pottery studio with kilns, wood carving studio, gallery and offer a wide range of classes to the community from dance to visual art. All this just a few years after Katrina leveled most of costal Mississippi. The Mary C is a testament to the vitality of this community and to the importance of art in our lives.
So needless to say I was excited to show the film here and be a part of this community, if only for one night.
The place was a buzz as snacks were sold and tickets taken. The converted 1920’s school auditorium at the heart of the Mary C began to fill up, and again I wondered how this film would be received in Mississippi, a place with such a strong Civil Rights history and a place like may others in the south, still wrestling with its segregated past.
My question was answered immediately after the film as we launched into yet another intelligent, and heartfelt discussion about issues raised in the film. The audience was instantly engaged in a passionate dialogue about Civil Rights and continuing social justice. There was even a man in the audience who was a police officer in the St. Augustine area during the 60’s. He shed light on the events of those times and stated unequivocally that the St. Augustine police wore a badge by day and a hood by night. So again, I had the feeling that we could have all happily sat in the theatre discussing these issues all night. But there was free wine in the lobby, so at some point we had to cut it off. The audience members and the conversation lingered on in the lobby until it was clear that the Mary C would have to close for the night.
So we all said our goodbyes and as the last of the stuff was being put away I talked with Eric a bit more. Come to find out he is the director of the cult classic film “Raiders of The Lost Ark Movie” a shot for shot remake of the original film made by Eric and his friends when they were just kids. This film sensation took the youth years to make and is a triumph of independent filmmaking and a great example of a pure creative impulse… truly art for arts sake, not for fame, fortune or glory, but rather something honest. Having read a lot about the film it was truly an honor and an inspiration to meet and talk with Eric.
All in all, it was a perfect night, with a great screening, discussion, and new connections made.
Now on to Clarksville, TN!