Friday, November 09, 2012

Jeb takes Bag It to Johnson City, TN

Eastern Tennessee State University, ETSU, in Johnson City, TN. First stop on my Southern Circuit Film Tour with Bag It. What a wonderful way to kick off the trip. First of all, for anyone who thinks this tour is going to be some sort of mini vacation, like I did, think again. My itinerary is jam packed with not only screenings and talkbacks, but dinners with interesting, and interested people, lots of class time with college and high school students, lunches with environmental groups and getting a little sight seeing in on the side.

At ETSU I started the morning bright and early with an Intro to Theater class. They were a mix of majors, some theater, most not, who had a lot of questions about acting and filmmaking. Some were getting ready for a production of Julius Caesar and others told me about short film projects they had done. I of course had to share my story of being at ETSU in 1995 with a touring production of Hamlet where our Hamlet had a stomach bug and was throwing up violently on show day. Instead of cancelling the show and having to possibly drive back we decided to place a garbage can on either side of the stage in the wing, so Hamlet could finish a soliloquy and then make an exit and puke. It worked and it was also one of his best performances. A mini acting lesson maybe? Getting a tour around the theater where it happened brought back lots of memories. 

The famous Hamlet stomach bug theatre
I then headed to the on campus Starbucks to get caffeinated and to meet with Cathy Whaley, who’s class I would be attending next. Cathy teaches film and various English classes, and is an encyclopedia of film knowledge. Sometimes I felt a little embarrassment at not having seen certain things she mentioned. I mean I’m supposed to be the film guy right? This was her Thinking/Argument—Civic Engagement class, where students pick topics to research and write about while learning how to make a strong argument defending their thesis. It was here that I got some tougher questions about our approach to researching Bag It. Why we included and didn't include certain topics in the film, did we look into enough of the positives of plastic, among others. I have to say it’s always nice, albeit a bit rattling, to be challenged, and it made me think of things we perhaps could have explored more, given the time and money, and if we had created a film with an ‘agenda’ or not. 
Jeb with Joel the Bag Monster
Jeb at the ETSU screening of Bag It
Next I was escorted to lunch by Lise Cutshaw, (Lise was my host and guide for most of the stay) lunch with the ‘Eco Nuts’, a student group who do a lot at ETSU to promote recycling and all things green. They have instituted a bags to benches program with Trex Lumber where for every 10,000 bags collected the school will get a bench to place on campus. Very cool. Oh, and I can’t leave out Lise’s son, Joel the Bag Monster who was out in the bag suit promoting the evening’s screening. I’ve worn those things many times and they are not the most comfortable, but Joel was a great monster who will be appearing on many Facebook pages in the weeks to come judging by how many pictures were taken.

Next was dinner with Tammy, a professor of tv and media studies, along with one of her star students, Mike Fink. Tammy wanted me to meet Mike as he is an up and coming filmmaker/comedy guy who has had a couple of videos go viral (check out Videobakery Youtube) which is more than I can say for myself. The three of us discussed tv and film careers and how there are lots of different ways to carve out a niche for yourself these days without necessarily moving to LA, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s always nice to think you have something of value to tell a guy like Mike who seems so excited and I think destined to do some interesting things with his life and career.

The screening was great with lots of good discussion afterwards…and cake! Got to meet a lot of great people who had a real excitement about the film and the issues of plastic that it raises.

A big thanks to everyone there, Dr Michael Briggs and Donna, who picked me up at the airport, Heidi and Lise from the Mary B Martin School for the Arts who hosted the event, Cathy Whaley, Tammy, Mike, Joel the Bag Monster, all the folks from Eco Nuts, especially Max Smith, and Cheyenne Peavler from ETSU Sustainability for being a positive example for all the students at ETSU. Hope to be back sometime before too long.

Next stop, Manteo, NC. The Outer Banks!

Jeb Berrier

‘Bag It’