This screening at Cumberland County College has been, by far, the most diverse audience that this film has ever had in terms of age. I think every decade was represented in this audience up through 80. Maybe even 90, but I didn’t want to be rude and ask.
Then a family came into the theater: a mother, 3 teenagers and a 10 yr old. I was immediately convinced that they would leave halfway through the film out of boredom or because of the intensity and controversial material in the film. I told Greg, the amazing theater manager, my thoughts and halfway through the film, he came out of the theater and said, “It’s at the Nappygrams part and they haven’t left yet…”
Still I worried about offending this young person, the teenagers and the mom, and apparently so did, Greg, because before the really offending scene where Patrick Welch, the British creator of the Micromentalist Movement, intensely studies one of documentary subject, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr’.s, letterpress printed posters which boldly says, “Fuck You, I’ll Fuck Myself” Greg slipped into the theater and whispered to the mother that there was a questionable scene coming up in the film for the 10 year old sitting next to her. She smiled at him and said, “I’m a mother! I’ve already talked to them about it. It’s okay.” Greg left the theater and thankfully told me, because I was pacing back and forth outside the theater ready to intercept what I was worried would be a fleeing family so I could profusely apologize. I sighed in relief and parked myself in a chair and waited for the film to finish, so I could go in and engage the audience in what turned out to be a vibrant and engaging Q&A session about the film.
Everyone wanted to know the normal things like how does a “normal” person like me ever meet a person like Amos? Did I seek him out or run into him a mall? Or at a poster fair? (For the record, I met him in College after the head librarian at the library I worked at told me his artist books were the best books in the library’s entire collection.)
Then they commented on interviewee, Karen Weeks, one of Amos’ only young printing apprentices that had know Amos when he taught at Indiana University and had also learned from him when he lived in York and Akron, AL, because she was on a large exercise ball holding her baby and bouncing up and down. Apparently, by the 4th or 5th time that Karen came on screen, they could no longer focus on what she was saying, they could only laugh at the ridiculousness of her bouncing on screen, which made me realize how important it is to get feedback on a film from ALL AGE GROUPS, not just a group that is similar to your own temperaments.
They also asked about the use of the animation in the film, and I answered, “Look this was my first film, I was a newbie. I only had the original vision of animation for the introduction, because I wanted to open the film with the force of what I feel Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. to be. The rest of the animation was just because we had talking heads on screen for too long.”
I was so impressed with this audience, because they were so engaged and we talked for a good while. Vineland, NJ is a small town of about 70,000 people, and is in rural southern New Jersey. There are only buses along the main drag, and I couldn’t walk anywhere. I had to drive everywhere unfortunately, because my walking paths were all busy streets that were not walking friendly. From what I can tell, there is not a lot of access to art or art programming here, so people are really hungry for it and really appreciate it when they get it.
After the screening, I pulled out some of Amos’ posters that he sent me to sell for him on the tour, and some DVDs, and I think everyone at the screening bought at least one poster and I sold 4 DVDs. INCLUDING ONE TO THE FAMILY I WAS SO CONCERNED ABOUT!! I was so floored and touched. The mother told me that she loved the film and thought the message was great, and had to borrow $10 from her son to pay for the film. It was one of the sweetest, most touching things I’ve ever seen at a screening. None of the children looked traumatized either! It’s no secret that after each screening, Kennedy ALWAYS sells way more posters than we do DVDs of the film, because you can hang his posters on your wall and look at them everyday. But at this screening, in this small, rural, Southern New Jersey town, I sold the most DVDs I’ve ever sold at a screening. The other purchasers of the DVDs included a white woman in her 70s or 80s, an African-American mother who had brought her teenage daughter to the screening, and Skye, a friend I made on Goodreads, a social networking site for book readers, a few months back.
About 4 months ago when I was pretty new to Goodreads, Skye friend requested me because we had similar taste in books. I thought that was great, and immediately accepted her friend request.
A few months later, I got my final itinerary for the On Screen/In Person tour from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and saw that I was going to be in Vineland, NJ where my new GoodReads friend is from! So I wrote her that I was coming to her town and invited her to the screening. After the screening, she told me that she didn’t even know that Cumberland County College had a screening series! And I know that Greg has advertised the series like crazy and posted information about the series everywhere. How does one communicate with a community that is so spread out and unaware of events like this in their town? My answer: the local Denny’s.
Denny’s is where to find the local community.
I know that sounds like an insane proposition, but after the screening, Skye and I went to the only place open at 11pm on a Friday night in Vineland so we could get some food, a stiff drink and geek out and talk about books The only place open that fit all of this criteria was the local Denny’s, and it was HOPPING!
There were families, high school kids who were coming out after some school dance, there was a security guard, because apparently this Denny’s can get a little out of control around 2am in the morning. We missed that action, unfortunately, but the security guard told us where we could go to see some action if we really wanted to. We really didn’t want to.
But the most amazing thing was how alive this Denny’s was with community and families. I told the woman who seated us that we don’t have security guards at the Denny’s where I’m from and I’m from Chicago! And she laughed and asked why I was in town. I told her that I was a filmmaker, and that I had showed my film at Cumberland County College that night. She asked me the name and I told her and assured it was okay that she hadn’t heard of it. She asked me if I had a copy so she could see it. And I said no, I didn’t, but in that moment, I so wish I had. I would have given it to her and asked her to call me to tell me what she thought of it. I wish I’d had 30 copies so I could have just given it away to everyone in the restaurant. I think when I can afford to, I’m going to print up a thousand copies and drive around to rural towns and just give the DVD away to people for free with a promise from them that they will call, email or text me what they thought about the film, and I’ll post all of the reviews on the website.
I still believe that the best way to reach people, to truly reach them is to show up in front of them, put your face in front of their face, get right in front of their eyes and put your words out right into their personal space, so they can experience your message right in front of them. That’s why the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation’s On Screen/In Person program is so incredible to me, and why I think it is one of the best, if not the best grant program for independent filmmakers that I have ever heard of or had the extreme pleasure to be a part of. I’ve only been to two screening locations so far, and I’ve already completely reworked my notions about what the audience for Proceed and Be Bold! is. Proceed and Be Bold! and the messages of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. can and does speak to anyone: rural, urban, old, young, any color, any gender, any political persuasion. He is a man unafraid of what he loves in life, and goes for it. Who doesn’t relate to that or want to do that as well?
Back to my Denny’s idea: Presidential candidates tour the country and meet people in diners and coffee shops and hospitals (Do they do this? They should, because then maybe they’d see how dire our public health system is and how much we need National Health Care.) because that is where the community is, where the community breathes, exists, and lives.
In communities where there is no known or accepted center for the arts, you have to go to the local Denny’s to tell people about it, because that may be where the town hangs out and congregate. Based on my observations at this Denny’s for the short time that I was there, this is a town that likes to talk to each other and spend time together. There were families with young kids up at 11pm and midnight talking and enjoying each other’s company while Skye and I enjoyed our conversation. It was a beautiful thing to see, and I think if someone just walked in there and told them about the film series or hung up posters there and invited the community to come see a film and then go to Denny’s afterwards to talk about it, I really believe they would.
And here’s a photo of Jean Luc-Goddard, because everyone should watch his infamous film, Breathless, at least once in their life. My favorite line in the film is, “Live forever, then die.” So contrary and so Kennedy.
Special thanks to Greg and Judith at Cumberland County College, to all of the amazing audience members I had the pleasure to meet and talk to, and to Skye you tells me what good books to read and is the most avid and incredible reader I have EVER MET. And she’s only 24! You inspire me to become a better reader, Skye!
Post by Laura Zinger, OSIP touring filmmaker