Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Final Reflections from Ellen Bar

Over the last two weeks, as I zipped around to ten cities in the South as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, a question formed in my mind that became more and more urgent with each new city that I visited and with each new screening filled with curious, intelligent, arts-craving audiences.  That question was why - why doesn't this exist anywhere else?  Why doesn't every region in the United States have a circuit tour? 

From the grand, ornate Lucas Theatre in Savannah, to the Baptist-church-turned-black-box-theater in Tupelo, to the college auditoriums of Clemson and Johnson City, our thoroughly unconventional abstract narrative dance film was received with excitement, enthusiasm and gratitude.  The Q and A sessions raised questions that were insightful, challenging, and unique to the cultural viewpoint of the South.  The outreach efforts of the local venues were fun, creative and effective. 
 (In Savannah, a sneaker design contest inspired by the colorful sneakers of the film resulted in a free pair of Converse for one lucky ticket holder - and a lot of great designs that Converse should really consider.)  

Thanks to those efforts, the screenings brought together groups of people that might not normally cross paths:  cinephiles and jazz aficionados; retirees, college kids and pre-teen dance students; ex-pat New Yorkers and lifelong Southerners.  Some were longtime fans of New York City Ballet while others had barely heard of it.  Regardless of their background, most audience members seemed to relish the instant gratification of getting to share their thoughts and questions with the filmmaker, person to person, with the film fresh in their minds.  

As a filmmaker, I've walked to the post office countless times to ship our film to the 65 cities and 6 continents where it has screened theatrically, always wondering how the audience members received our unusual project in places as diverse as Johannesburg, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, and Albuquerque.  The Southern Circuit was my first and only opportunity to travel with the film and see those reactions for myself.  After the lengthy, difficult and often discouraging process of making a film, these opportunities to connect with the audience and see the film's impact have given me the much-needed inspiration to continue on to new projects. 

I hope other organizations and regions will be inspired by what South Arts is accomplishing with their Southern Circuit.  Not only are they enriching the artistic life of the communities on the circuit, but they are contributing to the tourist industry that is now at the forefront of most Southern economies.  On my few free hours during the tour, I took in local sights and ate at local restaurants, all the while plotting how and when I could find a way to come back to these charming places and really get to know them.  When a tour guide in Charleston thanked me for my business, I told him that he should thank South Arts, not me.  South Arts has created the model and proven its value; I hope that other regions will be inspired to follow suit, for the benefit of filmmakers like me, and for the benefit of communities across the country.