Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Town Too Pretty To Burn: Madison, GA

In Madison, which is indeed charming, I heard a couple variations on the story that Toni Shrewsbery, my Southern Circuit host in Suwanee, told me about why General Sherman didn’t burn Madison on his march to the sea, including one from a member of the local Boys and Girls Club who came to see TRUST. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this is why Sherman didn’t burn Madison:

“Joshua Hill may be the town's most prominent resident. A U.S. congressman when the Civil War began, he resigned his position, despite opposing secession, and retreated to private life in Madison. In 1864 he reportedly convinced Union general William T. Sherman not to burn the town during his March to the Sea.

The Union army did spare Madison's center, although a number of public buildings and some surrounding plantations were burned. While accounts vary, Madison has become known in local folklore as "the town too pretty to burn."
Although the town escaped Sherman's flames, a fire raged through the downtown area on April 9, 1869, destroying forty-two stores and several other buildings and houses. Afterwards Madison did not regain the wealth and prominence it had possessed before the Civil War.”

Photo: Rob Seymour
One of the highlights of visiting Madison was an extra screening that Rob Seymour, Performance Director at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center arranged at the Morgan County Crossroads School, a school for students who have been kicked out of their regular school for a year for serious offenses, like bringing guns to school or having sex at school. As Dr. B, the school principal told me, the students range from gifted students to those with learning disabilities and this school is the only alternative open to them if they want to attend school during the year they are not allowed to attend their regular school.  Many of these students seemed disconnected and disinterested.

The students weren’t particularly interested in the screening, some put their heads down on their desks and lifted them only when prodded by a teacher, only to put their heads back down immediately and be prodded again.  But some did watch and some who had their heads down lifted them up and watched some of the movie. 

The post-screening discussion with the students offered me an opportunity to work with the 94-page TRUST Teaching Guide/Community Screening Kit that will be published in March after two years’ work by writer Melina O’Grady, designer Judy LIchtman, me, coordinator Eva Moss, manager Sue Chen and the TRUST Advisory Committee.  The guide has a list of questions to ask after screening the film, like:

Why do you think the film was called “TRUST”?
Why do you think the filmmakers decided to produce this film?
Where is Marlín from? Where does the story take place?
What do you think is the most important thing about the film? What matters to you the most?
What was the hardest thing to watch? What was the coolest thing?
TRUST raises some difficult issues. What are healthy strategies for coping with the painful feelings youth experience?
Would you recommend this film to others? To whom and why?
If we followed up on some of the themes from TRUST, which ones would you like to discuss further?

Without the guide, I would have been at a loss as to how to draw the students into a discussion.  I was pleased to see how going through those questions gradually drew more of the students into the discussion.  A couple of the students even wrote recipes for how to make themselves, just as the APTP members do in the film.  In a week or so, you’ll be able to see those recipes on the Recipes for Trust web site:

That night, the screening was in a school built before the Civil War that had been converted to an art center – the school had a round theater with beautiful wood.  One of the people who spoke before the film started was the president of the Cultural Center’s board, whose background is in theater, and he talked about the importance of the arts in a community’s cultural life and mentioned that one of the U.S.’s main exports is entertainment -  that the arts are not some fluffy, disposable thing in our society.  About 20 members of the local Boys and Girls Club were among the audience, and the first question during the post-screening discussion was from a young woman in the Boys and Girls Club: “Was that real?  You know how people make things up?  Was the movie made up?”  I asked her if she reads fiction and she said yes, and we talked a bit about the difference between non-fiction and fiction in filmmaking. 

The discussion with the audience afterwards was a lot of fun – people wanted to hear about how Marlín is doing now – and I just love answering this question because it is such a positive reflection on her and her resilience.  Last summer, after a lot of hard work, Marlín got her GED – she was so proud of herself.  Now she’s in college (she and Ana enrolled together) and she is engaged to a former APTP-ian, someone I have known since he was a teenager, someone I think is a very, very good person. 

After the post-screening reception, I hit the road for Montgomery, Alabama.

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