Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SAHKANAGA - Day 5

Well, Delta may not give you a private jet, but I basically received the following email from them today:

John, I just need to talk to you. I know I was a hot mess last Friday. Sometimes, I don't know, sometimes I just get a little crazy, and I'm sorry you had to take it. ALL of it. If I could, I would give you a private jet to make up for the s_ _ _show that went down last Friday, but I can't. I hope you understand. Please accept this gift of 5,000 miles as a meager offering of love, my love for you. Together we can make this work. Please forgive me. And thank you for loving me, even when I'm in krazytown.


I accept your apology, Delta.

Plus, the flights from Savannah to Memphis were smooth as silk and soft like butter.

In Memphis, I met my cousin Kala, who is finishing up her third year at Southern College of Optometry, and she took me to the Bar-B-Q Shop where I got to have barbecue spaghetti for the first time. Barbecue spaghetti is, ya know, spaghetti with chopped pork on top, but the curious part is that the noodles are slicked in a golden brown sauce, some mix of standard barbecue sauce and maple syrup. Like fettuccine alfredo, it's rich and delicious for about three bites, and then you need to make it stop.

Her fellow optometric hopeful, Nathan, joined us for the journey to Tupelo where the film screened at the Link Centre, an old Baptist church that has been converted into an arts & social services complex (a cool and ambitious project). The screening was sparsely populated (we were competing with a dulcimer concert upstairs), but the people who attended were warmly welcoming and excited to be there. The post-screening Q&A was remarkable, evolving from questions about the filmmaking process into a passionate discussion about the relevance of the arts in our respective communities.

Why was the screening poorly attended? Do people really not care about independent film? Is it the over-saturation of entertainment options now that you can stream and download in the comfort of your own home? Why were there not more college students in attendance in the college towns of Charleston and Savannah? Where's the disconnect? How do we reach people?

The Southern Circuit is bringing high-quality independent documentaries and features to a variety of small and mid-sized Southern communities, and it's wildly affordable (screenings range in price from $10 to FREE).

Are we so far down the rabbit hole of celebrity culture that an independent film series doesn't qualify as "newsworthy" to the papers and television stations in each of these communities? Is it that people are scared of the unknown, that an independent film series is unfamiliar and therefore too big a gamble of one's time and money?

I do think we need to be working to cultivate a culture of curiosity. I had never heard of barbecue spaghetti, so naturally that's what I ordered because I have an appetite for new things, the experience of discovery. I didn't love it but it didn't kill me. But when I do prevent myself from trying something new, what am I scared of? Is it possible to shift from an attitude of likes & dislikes, good & bad, right & wrong, to an approach of exploration and acceptance (even if that means you're accepting that you think independent film sucks).

The basic conclusion is that we all have to work a lot harder if we expect the arts to not only exist, but to exist on the forefront of our cultural relevance. Artists can open our hearts and minds, expand our horizons, and profoundly impact the way we experience the world around us. But not if we're participating in a slow and steady erosion of intellectual, political, spiritual, emotional and physical curiosity.

In Tupelo, there was a high school teacher who had told her students about the screening, but they didn't show up, and that breaks my heart. When we screened the film for 200 high schoolers in Woodstock, NY (as part of an outreach initiative at the Woodstock Film Festival) it was one of the greatest screenings we've had. SAHKANAGA is about teenagers (the teenager in all of us), and those kids were more than ready to engage with an independent film, to pick it apart and chew on it. But the only reason they saw the film is because it was a mandatory activity scheduled during school hours.

Some of those kids will go on to seek out independent film, and to think about commercial film in a much more connected way, and that process of personal growth will affect every aspect of their lives.

Anyone can come to the Southern Circuit screenings and go on the same journey.

But how? How do I get you to briefly abandon your routine and enter a dark theater to share this experience with me?