I’ve traveled to many places but this was my first time to Erie Pennsylvania. Since it is the only part of Pennsylvania that touches Lake Erie it stands to reason there would be a distinction, but I had no idea it was so beautiful. The venue at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center harkens back to the day when attending a movie was a special event that you wanted to dress up for. With its rich heritage of performers my first night in the On Screen/In Person program made me feel like I was among very good company.
The director of the performing arts center, Michael Fuhrman, had set up an ambitious schedule. I got off the plane and went right into a couple interviews and then spoke to a senior class. The next morning I spoke to a freshman class. Students have a lot to get through on any given day and heavy subjects like my film, that don’t involve their immediate concerns, are rather low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Even so, many students were right there, ready to have dialogue.
I think it’s accurate to say that a majority of us Americans are sheltered when it comes to the type of news and information we receive. I learned so much that I had never known before while I made Little Town of Bethlehem. The film immerses the viewer into the personal story of three protagonists, a Palestinian Christian, a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew. The history of the conflict is revealed by how it affected each of them personally, and we learn through their own words and life journeys how they each became part of the nonviolence movement. This process places a very personal face on the conflict. Which in turn makes it more personal for the viewer.
When I stood up for dialogue after the screening and looked out into the faces of the audience I could see they were processing and working through the story. So I shared with them what it was like to have Seder dinner with the Israeli family one night, and a traditional meal with the Palestinian family in a refugee camp the next night. When the question started they was an equal amount of comments. People just wanted to talk. They wanted to digest what they just saw together. This made me appreciate the vision of the On Screen/In Person tour. It created a space for people to connect with each other and share what a story means, and something as simple as that can be all we need to bring us out of our sheltered lives.
post by Jim Hanon, OSIP Touring Filmmaker