Friday, October 15, 2010

Tina Mabry - Johnson City, TN - East Tennessee State University

It was a good indication this would be a nice visit when I was unexpectedly upgraded to the McKinley Suite at the Carnegie Hotel located across from the university. After a few days of nothing but fast food, I was looking forward to the dinner invitation from my host, Anita DeAngelis; Anita and her husband, Steve, had graciously prepared a wonderful Southern dinner for me. We discussed the current state of the creative arts and how the recession has not exactly been kind to our respective fields. I had a lot to say about independent films' struggle to find adequate distribution especially after our prior experiences with Mississippi Damned.

The next day two professors, Shara Lange and Tammy Hayes, had extended invitations to speak to two of their classes, the Video-Film Techniques class and Survey of Broadcasting. I vividly remember being an undergraduate and I have to admit I wasn't always fond of our guest speakers, so I knew I had to avoid the pitfalls of the lackluster guest speakers I had previously encountered. Despite my limited sleep, I was all pumped and ready to go. As undergrads are, they were a little hesitant to start asking questions, but one question opened the floodgates. I always try to be optimistic yet candid when discussing the film industry. I aim to tell students the things I wished someone had told me before getting into film. After all, I feel it's our duty to let up and coming filmmakers know what to expect so they can be prepared as possible.

I grew up in Tupelo, MS where being a filmmaker seemed far-fetched when I lived there; both the professors and students at ETSU echoed similar thoughts. Because film and television were my connections to the outside world, I knew the power cinema can have on a person and I wanted to be apart of that regardless of the uncertainty of entering an artistic field. I attempted to relay this to the students and let them know that just because Johnson City, TN was the hub of filmmaking didn't mean they couldn't become filmmakers. My message seemed to go over well and I even managed to get a few laughs which is always nice.

"Lunch with the Filmmaker" was next on the agenda. Students from a few organizations, Anita's secretary, Heidi, and the Film Studies director, Jennifer Barker, came by and what started off as conversations about film quickly expanded. We talked about relationships, our hometowns, hair (which I guess is a little film related because we started off talking about the doc "Good Hair."), the dynamics between men and women, and a range of other topics. I'm telling you, we had a GREAT time!

I managed to sneak in a mini-nap before the screening (in addition to befriending some of the students on Facebook) and soon after went to eat dinner at the Firehouse with Shara and Tammy. After Tammy and I discovered our dogs are practically twins, we headed to the theater to see the space. It looked excellent. I opted to go back to the hotel instead of attending the screening.

I come back a little early for the Q&A, so I stand on my tiptoes to peak through the door window into the theater (yeah, I'm short :). "Wow," was the first word that came to mind when I saw a lot of people inside.

There was a nice applause at the end of the field and I took my place in front ready to answer questions. The Q&A had to go on for thirty minutes. I started to talk about how my family was shocked that I had remembered so many events from our past because I was just a kid. However, I told the audience the same thing I told my family, "Kids see and hear almost everything you do. It's when we get a little bit older that we can actually process what it was we really saw." One of the audience members said she could completely relate. She admitted that she had to text her mother during the film (which I poked fun at her about) because she thought back to things that occurred during her childhood. Like me, she was young when some traumatic events happened to her and vividly remembered all of them to her mother's surprise.

For some reason, it always happens that the filmmaker misses out on the reception because we're always running our mouths by talking too much :). Shara set aside a piece of cake for me which I greatly appreciated. After I finished speaking with some members of the audience, Anita told me that 133 people attended the screening. She said it was a new high for a South Arts screening. It seemed like a good time to celebrate, but I had to call it an early night because I had to speak to Shara's class in the morning before heading off to Clemson, SC.

The talk in the second class went just as well as the first. I had such a good time in Johnson City that I actually wanted to stay a few more days. They were fantastic hosts and I told them if they are ever on the West Coast give me a call.