On Tour: Shelley Rogers finishes her tour with some adventures in St. John, USVI

13 Jan

When I wrote on my Facebook page that I was packing up for a trip to the Virgin Islands, comments rolled in from friends expressing a mixture of glee and jealousy. Indeed, I had visions of a glamorous jet-setting trip with my partner and collaborator, Marty Mesh (he’s also a featured character in What’s Organic About Organic?). We have fun both living and traveling together and connecting with audiences has become our favorite part of the filmmaking process. Who wouldn’t want to go to a tropical island to do so? Marty also has a good friend of over 30 years who lives there, so it was the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a visit with her and spend some extra time in paradise.

The beauty we encountered was indeed stunning. Our first days for the screening and events on the island of St. John were spent in the main town of Cruz Bay, a community with no traffic lights and only one round-about. It’s an intimate, friendly place where you can tell the locals from the tourists because all the locals know each other’s names.

When lugging our bags from the ferry to the quaint little Cruz Bay Boutique Hotel, I noticed a certain unfamiliar twinge of pain in my lower back and recalled that on our first flight at 6 a.m. I slept in a somewhat twisted, weird position, but I ignored it, thinking it would go away overnight. Unfortunately, it got worse. I was in denial, though, and was determined to make the most of my island surroundings, so we hiked to Honeymoon Beach the first day to soak in some sea breeze before the screening that evening. After a somewhat excruciating experience getting to and from the beach (it normally would have been an easy trek), I reserved some time to lay horizontal on the bed in the hotel, since I really wanted to be in good form for the screening that night.

The evening proved to be memorable, even though I was in a bit of a fog. It was a packed house for the St. John Film Society cinema, so I was incredibly grateful that Marty was there to tag-team conversations with me and take the lead, since I was feeling the delirium that comes with hours of pain. Our hosts, filmmaker Andrea Leland and Kathy Guidi, gave us a warm welcome and we were accompanied on the post-screening panel by a local farm couple, the folks behind Josephine’s Greens. It was great to hear from them. Clearly, it is a tremendous feat to grow vegetables here—the soils are poor, the bush can take over quickly if it’s not constantly cut back and pests include hungry and agile iguanas that can get to nearly anything they want to eat. Josephine is the only commercial grower in St. John and her market is mainly local restaurants. Of course, she can’t supply the whole island in local food, though; so much of what is consumed is imported. Marty has worked with Extension folks in St. Thomas before and has certification staff in the Dominican Republic, so he talked about the effort to develop the local food economy among the Caribbean islands.

The audience was effusive and friendly and asked many great questions. Our friend, Arlene, commented that she was shocked that so many from the neighboring community of Coral Bay made the trek over the mountain to come see the film. After riding around the island in Arlene’s car the following days, I gained a deeper appreciation for the traveling that folks made to come see the film. Every road on the island is curvy, steep, and bumpy. It makes San Francisco seem like a kiddy roller coaster. And St. John roads are doubly bizarre because you drive on the right side of the road!

We also visited the Gifft Hill School to share the film with the middle school students. The school has an environmental focus that the students dubbed the EARTH program, Education And Resiliency Through Horticulture. The school has cooperation from Iowa State University, so they’ve built a beautiful edible garden there, complete with passion fruit that the students love to pick (often times before they’re ripe!). Even though I was mildly concerned that they weren’t paying attention during the screening (always the filmmaker’s nightmare!), I was impressed with their questions during our discussion.

We also had a treat of a visit with the organizers behind the St. John Film Society over mahi sandwiches at a local restaurant called the Fish Trap. There, I discovered that fellow filmmaker Andrea Leland started the film society in order to generate more intellectual stimulation for the island. She also told us about her fascination with Caribbean culture and how her work has focused on and explored it in depth.

The rest of our trip was filled with beaches, snorkeling, sunshine, a full moon, rum, a sailing trip and rescue remedy, an ice pack on my lower back. I finally numbed it enough that I could move around and enjoy our vacation time. Jet setting? Check, but the glamour experienced was unfortunately coupled with a twinge of a documentarian’s back pain reality. Yes, truth is more dramatic than fiction sometimes. Luckily, I’m happy to report I’m on the mend, with nothing but fond memories of our island film adventures and gratitude to the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation’s support of filmmakers and communities throughout the region.

Post and photos by Shelley Rogers, OSIP touring filmmaker
Thanks for all of your time and energy, Shelley! You were our one of our very first brave filmmakers to head out on tour. We appreciate all of your words, and look forward to hearing about your future projects! Hope your back feels better 🙂
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