The main stretch of the tour is underway: I screened MILKING THE RHINO on consecutive nights in Oswego, NY and Wilmington, DE. Both screenings were excellent, with good projection and responsive audiences. But I’m struck by the differences in the two. This is one of the enjoyable aspects of this kind of tour: experiencing the unique character of each venue and crowd.
Sometimes the crowd is drawn by the content; other times it’s filled with film people interested in technique. Some screenings happen in rudimentary spaces – like the one in St. John, VI, where I helped set up the chairs and trouble-shoot the DVD player before the show. There’s a certain grass-roots charm in that; and rarely would a doc filmmaker be fazed by that kind of bootstrap situation. In the case of these last two screenings, each took place in a fine theater, where the film looked and sounded great. But the milieus were so different.
Oswego New York is a town that’s seen better days. In its heyday it was apparently a key freight port because it sits at the mouth of the Oswego river, which connects Lake Ontario to the Erie Canal, which in turn runs into the Hudson River. This all has to do with being able to ship stuff from The Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and vice versa; if I understand this right. Anyway, those freight days are long gone so the town’s in a bit of decline, but it has stately mansions surrounding downtown, and terrific old granite municipal buildings, all testaments to the industrial wealth that made the place boom in the mid 19th century. What Oswego has now is a state university: SUNY Oswego. It also has two, count em two, Nuke plants within spitting distance.
Bathtub Madonna, Oswego
Nonetheless it’s a beautiful area. I’m embarrassed to say that I had NO clue where I was going when I went there. I like to do some research or at least look at a map before traveling to a screening location; but I’d been so crazy busy the last days before the tour that it was enough to just make it onto the airplane. So when my host told me to try to catch a sunset over the lake on my first night there, I assumed he was talking about one of the famous “finger lakes” to the south. I had no idea I was half a mile from Lake Ontario. Duh…
With host Jake Dodd at the Oswego Theater
Anyhow, the aforementioned host, Jake Dodd, is a terrific guy: a young assistant professor in film studies and production at the university. I did an editing workshop with his students in the afternoon and then headed to the Oswego theater on 2nd Street in the heart of this old downtown: an old Art Deco theater that had been split into half a dozen shoe boxes. Rhino played in one of them. The tech was incredible: a crisp 4K projector and great audio. Once in a while, when the conditions are this good, I am amazed by the beauty of this film and am moved to sing the praises of the best doc crew in existence: Jason Longo on camera and Rich Pooler on sound. The crowd was composed of film students, townspeople, environmentally conscious folk, etc. It was a good, balanced, lively Q&A and the whole thing had a warm, homespun, historical feel (at least in MY mind) because of the architecture and the history of the place.
My warm, wise, wonderful hosts at the B&B in Oswego
The next night in Wilmington, DE was an altogether different vibe. Wilmington is the headquarters for lots of big banks. You know how all those unsolicited credit card offers come from Delaware? This is why. The theater was a rehabbed auditorium in what used to be the DuPont headquarters. The building itself was like a tomb –a 20 story granite bomb shelter where no cell phones worked. But the theater was nicely rehabbed. The crowd here was composed entirely of people drawn by the content. In every screening there’s always one or two couples who have been somewhere in Africa and share how their experiences relate to the film. By the end of this Q&A it became apparent that virtually everyone in the room had been on Safari in Africa. It was an utterly unique crowd. And only after the fact did it occur to me that it was probably the highest per capita income that’s ever attended a screening. Damn! I should’ve made an impassioned funding plea for MTR II. That’s why I suck as a fundraiser: I didn’t even realize the iron was hot. Anyway they loved the film and it was a great, informed discussion.
The other treat at the Wilmington show was the woman who ran it: Bev Zimmerman. I don’t know what her job title is. She works for the mayor’s office of cultural affairs and seems to be at the center of the Arts scene. But that’s not what’s impressive. Bev’s a whirlwind! She did the tech setup, ran the projection, the concession stand, sold the tickets, chatted with the patrons –all of whom knew here — ALL SIMULTANEOUSLY. I watched her; but I still don’t know how she did it! At a certain point she stopped selling tickets and popcorn, told me to introduce myself when the music stopped, and ran upstairs to the projection booth. The woman’s a dynamo. She also sold my DVDs after the Q&A while I chatted. My bad for not snapping a picture of Bev. I had a flight of microbrews at a great local bar while the film played, so forgot all about my camera
A couple more brief anecdotes. Back in Oswego – when I finally figured out that I was on the Great Lakes – I took a long walk on the shore and on the way back stopped at one of the great local institutions: Rudy’s. I submit pics below. I took my haddock sandwich outside, and as I ate it a seagull kept swooping within 6 feet trying to get my sandwich. I would’ve taken a photo mid-swoop but I was afraid to take my hands off the sandwich. Well it happens that I had just watched THE BIRDS with my sons less than a week ago, so the whole thing freaked the hell out of me!
The tempting sandwich
The offending gull
My transportation from Syracuse airport to Oswego and back was not in a car but in a cute little toy made by Mazda that crunched my 6’1” frame even with the seat fully back. So when I flew to Philly to pick up the car I’ll use for the next 1.5 weeks, something had to give. At first the agent said it would cost $200 to upgrade. But he prowled around and found me a sweetheart deal: only $90 extra for a Mitsubishi Eclipse . Which I’m SURE that Mid-Atlantic Arts will pay for. Right Ann?? It was either that or a chiropractor’s bill. Anyway, it’s been a long while since I’ve driven a car with a tachometer! Wooo! Hope I don’t add a speeding ticket to the expense report.
Over and out for now…
Post by OSIP touring filmmaker David E. Simpson
To read more posts by this filmmaker, please click here.