Saturday, April 13, 2013

Follow the Leader in the Outer Banks

After a brief visit back to ETSU in Johnson City to say farewell to our hosts, I hit the road to Manteo, North Carolina – it's a couple of hours from the nearest airport in Norfolk, so why not drive the scenic highways? Even after a 10+ hour drive – including a 2-3 hour detour because of major repairs on the only bridge going over the Alligator River (see picture for the surprise that greeted me at its banks!) – I wasn't even doubting that decision. Open roads, a beautiful day and night, and some great pizza on the way at Pops in Chapel Hill only a mile from the highway. Both NPR stations and some great local music stations were always available – quite rare indeed for these United States. It had been a while since I'd heard “Dust in the Wind”...but for a while it seemed to be playing on repeat, which was fitting somehow as I breezed past scores of deer and was lucky enough to dodge every raccoon in my path.

Arriving in Manteo, even in the dead of night, I was struck by how charming it was. I met Fay from Dare County Arts Council, along with her husband, at their office when I arrived. They were kind enough to escort me to the accommodation they'd arranged for me...which gave me the privilege of waking up looking directly at the Atlantic (pictured)!
Our primary host Chris Sawin of the Arts Council met me the following morning, and we went to meet with an AP Government class at the local First Flight High School. It's named “First Flight” because it's right next to the famous hill from which the Wright Brothers first flew; looking at the inscription on the monument (pictured), I wondered what we had achieved more recently as a country through “dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.” Chris's lovely sister Susan is the librarian at the school, and she met us at reception and took us where we needed to be. The students were all engaged (well, most of them, anyway) with the clips we showed, and during our discussion. Their favorite of the three characters was Ben, who they felt had great potential for future political leadership. We discussed what qualities he possesses that made them feel that way...along with what qualities none of the boys had that we also want to see in our leaders.
I spent the afternoon soaking up the local color and flavor (the yellowfin tuna steak sandwich at Tortuga's is awesome! – with thanks to Michelle, Christina and one of their fellow customers at “OBX Consign It” in nearby Nags Head for recommending it). In the evening, we screened FOLLOW THE LEADER at the Outer Banks Brewing Station, where filmgoers had the option of eating a delicious meal during the performance. I was reminded of our screening during the Republican National Convention – the film was the only one to premiere during both the 2012 RNC & DNC Conventions – at the Improv Comedy Club Theatre in Tampa, Florida. There, we had a similar dinner theater set-up, and both times we had fantastic sound, since both venues are often used for music performances. It's always nice to have 100% attention in a cinema, but it's interesting in a different way to experience the film with people in a setting more like most people see it – which, we filmmakers shouldn't kid ourselves, is either on DVD, online, or on TV. It's fascinating to see which moments hold up best, and what jokes read, in a setting where people are splitting their attention between FOLLOW THE LEADER and favorites like Shrimp and Grits...which was a terrific accompaniment for me!

After the screening we had another great Q&A – this is never a film to which people are shy to respond! And I had the pleasure of meeting more people from the local host committee including the talented silversmith Ginny, Tatum and her beau, Shelly, and Angie, who represents the Chamber of Commerce. I was touched that Susan from the high school came out with her three teen (and almost teen) boys, who all seemed to get a kick out of the film. A family vacationing from Mexico had seen some local advertising and sat right in front, along with their youngest member who fell asleep in his removable car-seat about ten minutes into the film. Following the public discussion, I spent some time with Chris and stalwart local supporters of the arts David and BJ Neal. Apart from his full-time work, David is a singer songwriter with a number of politically-themed songs to his credit. One recounts the many conspiracy theories surrounding JFK's assassination, and another details the story of Bradley Manning – I told him he should post his new music video on our Facebook page, and hope you'll go there to see if he did (and also “like” us while you're at it – it makes a difference!):

Manteo, Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills: you're all a delight filled with the friendliest of people, and before long I hope we can spend more than 36 hours together!

 - Jonathan Goodman Levitt