Sunday, February 17, 2013

EATING ALABAMA, on the road...

I'm going to opt for a hastily put together photo-essay of my time traveling with the Southern Circuit rather than writing too much about my experience. I think the web is most dynamic as a visual medium and I tend to take lots of pictures when I'm traveling - especially when I'm traveling alone. Susan Sontag wrote in her book "On Photography" about this American inclination to photograph when we travel - many of us turn to photography as a way to continue the "work" we're leaving behind. We can't really be idle. Not even on vacation.

I wouldn't call the Southern Circuit a vacation, despite the wonderful screenings and the interesting locations and the (occasionally) good food. It's more like a rock and roll tour without the bandmates, without the groupies, without the gear. It's a lot of time in airports and rental cars and planes and motels. But it's an amazing way to share your film with an audience you might otherwise never have an opportunity to interact with. It's really a great program, and the audiences thus far have been spectacular and genuinely excited about my movie. Which is more than I could ask for, frankly...

DAY ONE & TWO: Departing for Savannah, GA. My tour was split up a bit - the first screening was a one night affair in Savannah, where I flew in just for the screening and then came back home. You'll notice in this photo that it's been digitally processed. This one, like many others here, has been processed through the photo-sharing service Instagram. I'm a little skeptical about my inclination to process photos this way - the over-saturation, the boosted contrast, the distressed edges. These are all techniques used to create an instant vintage affect which ramps up the nostalgia factor of the image. Nostalgia and vintage both imply age and durability - they communicate authenticity through their staying power. But this image was quickly snapped, processed digitally and distributed to my social network feeds without any process of reflection. So, what is its value other than an aesthetic one? If you're interested in what someone much smarter than me thinks about all this, check out this essay from The New Inquiry.

DAY ONE: Even Instagram photography benefits from good light - this is the marquee of the venue in Savannah as the sun is going down. Photographers and filmmakers talk about this time (and the hour of sunrise) as the "magic hour." When the sun is low in the sky, the shadows are elongated and the contrast is ramped up. It makes things easier to see. Or conceal. The screening itself was wonderful - the Lucas is a great theatre and there was a nice crowd, too. I spent the evening hanging out with my friend Jared who's a musician based in Savannah. He played accordion on the score for the film.

DAY TWO: On my way to the airport, I snapped this one. I love the live oaks in places like Savannah.

DAY THREE: Day three of the tour was separated by a few weeks from the trip to Savannah. First up was a drive from my home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to a small town called Winder, Georgia about an hour northeast of Atlanta. The film still hasn't played in Atlanta, so there were actually a handful of people who drove up to see the movie. My friend Lane, there on the left, drove over from Athens and I was fortunate to be able to spend the night with he and his wife Sarah. There in the middle is our friend Julia who drove up from Atlanta. But the winner of the farthest distanced traveled was an old college friend who drove three hours to see the film! It was a nice screening with a great Q&A moderated by a local filmmaker. Probably the most insightful questions I've gotten in a Q&A - thanks Christopher!

DAY THREE: On the way from Winder to Athens, Lane and I stopped in at an antique auction where he was bidding on some old woodworking tools. I saw this essay from around the 60s in a random box and took a picture.

DAY FOUR: After a great night with friends in Athens I drove through the fog and the rain to Johnson City, Tennessee for a screening that evening at Eastern Tennessee State University. I dropped in to an Environmental Studies class that afternoon and talked about filmmaking, the documentary genre and writing. Somehow, we ended up talking a lot about John McPhee and this interview I recently read with him from the Paris Review. The subject was the making of these sometimes complicated nonfiction narratives - namely, how do you assemble all the often disparate threads of your story to form a coherent whole?

DAY FOUR: When I remember, I like to take pictures of the audiences during Q&A or before the screening. It's always nice to share what it looks like from my perspective! The screening was packed out - I believe there were about 200 folks. It was a great and enthusiastic audience and I was glad to talk with a couple of local food advocates from the area. Thanks ETSU!

DAY FOUR: Saw this smokestack and had to take a picture. This was in route to the screening near Asheville, NC.

DAY FIVE: From Johnson City, TN to the Outer Banks via Charlotte. When I arrived in Kill Devil Hills (where I stayed and where I screened the film and, yes, the actual name of the place), I went on a short walk to the beach. The Atlantic always seems too cold for me, no matter where or when I visit. I was raised on the bathwater warm Gulf of Mexico and it's the only beach I can call home... I grabbed dinner at a local diner and sat at the bar waiting for my food. I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me who was a detective from Charlotte, NC. He asked about what I do and I told him about the film and he launched into his own story of losing his family's farm. I'm always surprised at how universal my family's story of leaving the farm is to many Americans. He wanted to talk about filmmaking, but I was far more interested to hear about what he does for a living - especially when he told me that he and his partner were in the area because they were attending a two day workshop on serial killers being held at the local Nags Head police department (yes, the actual name of the city is Nags Head). 

DAY SIX: I'm not going to lie, day six was epic. Starting at 9am I went and spoke to a high school English class. This is their library - that monument out the window commemorates the spot of the first flight of the Wright Brothers. The high school, aptly enough, is called "First Flight High School." The students were great and had some questions about food and farming and filmmaking, but I steered us toward a conversation about the South. Namely, are the Outer Banks the South? Why or why not? It was an interesting conversation. I then went to speak to another class at the local alternative high school. There, many of the students' families were involved in the food industry - either through commercial fishing operations or through the hospitality and service industry. Then it was back to First Flight for another two classes where we talked about food and filmmaking and social media.

DAY SIX: After the schoolday I had a small window to go visit the Wright Brothers National Monument and see the spot where they took their first few test flights. Being a bit obsessed with the past and with the way in which we remember (or misremember) our own history, I'm always intrigued to see these locations. My father-in-law is a pilot and has a real affinity for the history of air travel which has become something of an interest of mine too. I wasn't able to absorb the whole museum, but I looked at the exhibits and walked around their test flight monuments.

DAY SIX: This sentence from Orville struck me as a really interesting way of putting it: "Isn't it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so that we could discover them!"

DAY SIX: My time at the Wright Brothers field was cut short because I had to Skype with my class at the University of Alabama. Just because I'm away from the classroom doesn't mean I didn't teach! Here they all are - hard at work on their own documentary projects. It was my first time doing a class session like this and, while it certainly wasn't ideal, I was pleasantly surprised with how it worked!

DAY SIX: The screening venue was in a very cool place called the Outer Banks Brewing Station. During the screening, I had a wonderful chat with the owner about local foodways, natural childbirth and our contemporary cultural zeitgeist for the handmade and handcrafted. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of conversations with strangers... Check out all that the OBB is doing to support sustainability!

DAY SIX: My very first screening in a bar! It was a delight - great audience, great Q&A. Thanks Outer Banks!

DAY SEVEN: Heading out to the airport I took one more short walk on the beach. 

NEXT UP...I'm headed out to the final four dates of the tour in a couple of days. Check back for another dispatch soon!