I’ve never ever in my life wanted to just pull over my car, or leap off a bus anywhere with the full certainty that I had finally found a place where I would love to stay forever. That was until I drove four hours from the screening in Charleston, WV to Lynchburg, VA through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I know that John Denver is a huge fan, but that was the most exposure I had to its absolute beauty. I seriously contemplated just pulling over at least a dozen times at a dozen different places along my drive, walking up to a nearby farm and seeing if they needed any extra farm help in exchange for room and board.
I even think the Blue Ridge Mountains were more beautiful than Trunk Bay Beach at St. John’s Island in the Virgin Islands which is the quintessential beach that is in every Caribbean beach photo meant to seduce you into visiting the islands. I’m serious. Smack your head in disbelief all you want to, the Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous. Alas, I did not stop because my sense of responsibility is too strong and I had two more screenings left on the tour, but I am definitely going back. And probably staying forever. Or for a very long time.
Lynchburg, VA itself is a beautiful town with rolling hills and a calmness and self-satisfaction that I have only ever experienced in the South.
I checked into my hotel, The Craddock Terry Hotel which had previously been a shoe factory, and in keeping with this history, the hotel gives every hotel room a shoe box and a card where you can mark how many breakfasts you would like the next morning. Then you put the card in the box, and then the box went outside your door. In the morning, breakfast would be put in your box! I was a huge fan of this, because it made me realize how important and wonderful traditions and customs are. I know it’s a just a shoe box with breakfast in it, but I’ll forever remember this experience because it was a custom the hotel has adopted and let me partake in during my stay. It reminded me of all of the Southern customs and idioms and sayings that, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., the subject of my documentary, prints on his posters. Traveling around the South made me very aware of what Kennedy says in the documentary about how the black population in America was going from a “rural Southern, base to an urban, Northern base,” and that a lot was being lost in that transition. Meaning that the sayings and customs of the South like “Coffee Makes You Black” or breakfast in shoe boxes are being lost. A culture without customs and traditions is missing its heart, I think. It’s incredible to me how much I have learned from Kennedy and the making of this documentary and how now, even 4 years later, I’m still learning things from Kennedy and the documentary. I was very interested to see what would come in the shoe box the next morning.
The screening in Lynchburg was at Riverviews Artspace, a large multi-space building dedicated to the arts which I felt was an incredible space/organization for a town of 50,000-60,000 residents to have and support. I walked around downtown Lynchburg during the screening to get more of a feel for the town. I saw a curious sign that I meant to ask my host, Erin, the Exhibitions and Programs Manager at Riverviews about.
I am a big fan of Interfaith Outreach organizations, but I especially love that a furniture program is in effect at this outreach association, because everyone of EVERY faith has and needs furniture! But what really struck me was that this sign as well as a large bulletin board I saw in their downtown really lead me to believe that this town cares deeply about diversity.
But I really wanted to know why then they don’t change the name of the town? Apparently, the town is named after the founder whose last name was “Lynch,” but still, I think we can all agree, that this is a very unfortunate name with a lot of emotional meaning behind it even if that meaning is unintentional.
I was really interested to screen this documentary in front of a Southern audience to see if their reaction to the film would be different in any way from the other screenings. Everyone in the audience for the screening was over 50 years old, and this audience seemed to really connect with Amos and his message in the film. Maybe because they were closer to the age Amos was when he quit the corporate world and became a printer or maybe because several of them were familiar with academia and appreciated Amos’ disdain for institutional structure.
After the Q&A, a woman came up to me and said that she felt that Kennedy was a “bottomless pit of wonderfulness,” an incredible description that made me smile. She also had taken a class with Walter Hammidy who was Kennedy’s mentor when he was getting his MFA at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and was familiar with Walter Hammidy’s style of teaching which I was not able to portray nor show in the documentary, unfortunately, because Hammidy was either uninterested in being interviewed or camera shy.
Beth, who serves on the board of the Riverviews Art Center and Erin, both extended their southern hospitality and took me out for some great food after the screening.
Our conversation lingered on how much Lynchburg has changed in the 6 years that Erin has lived there. More young people have moved into the area due to the nearby colleges and apparently there is a group of train hoppers that have happened upon Lynchburg and stayed changing some of the dynamic of the town. I was hoping some would be at the screening so I could ask them about their lifestyle as train hoppers, but unfortunately none were in attendance.
Beth mentioned that Colonial Williamsburg was on the way to Norfolk, VA where the last screening of the tour was. Colonial Williamsburg was where Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., the subject of my documentary, saw the printing press that changed his life. I decided right then that I would stop by on my way to Norfolk to see that press.
But before I saw that press, I really want to see what breakfast came in the shoebox!
Post by Laura Zinger, OSIP touring filmmaker