It was a cold but pleasant February day here in Roanoke, Virginia for an afternoon and evening screening of Cafeteria Man at the Taubman Museum of Art. Located in the center of the historic and hip cultural district of the town, the museum explodes architecturally into the sky. I was sure that Frank Gehry had designed it when I drove up but I was wrong. The 2008 building is in fact the work of one of his disciples, Randall Stout, and it is absolutely stunning. Aside from hosting lots of traveling exhibits, theatre, and film series like this one, there is a significant permanent collection of American art housed here. Hats off to the generous and very alive Taubman couple for making this place exist! And a big thanks to the two museum staffers (Briana Blanchard and Paige Kaufman) who hosted my visit and ran the show.
Our film was shown to a small group in a small room during the day. That handful of viewers stayed for a very real and intimate discussion about the film and it’s activist star Tony Geraci. Long ago, I remember being disappointed by a “low turnout” for a screening and Q&A of any film. But I’ve changed my attitude about this completely, and not just as a coping rationalization for psychological well-being. What a small discussion offers is a chance for me to get to know the names and stories of the people, who invariably open up much more personally and honestly than a big-group Q&A allows. It is a gift really, having a living room seminar suddenly emerge with random but interested humans eager to dovetail their ideas with me and, more importantly, each other.
The Saturday evening screening was fantastic. Not a huge crowd, but 30-40 folks who absolutely engaged in the film and it’s content. It’s always a pleasure to share the film with a well educated progressive group. They asked many profound questions, not so much of me but of ‘us.’ They asked about how to maintain hope in our society amidst seemingly formidable obstacles and problems. We discussed how the topic of school food reform can be extrapolated and then applied to almost any environment where transformative change is needed. I was impressed by the intellectual sophistication of this audience and warmed by their humor. It was a very lively and genuine conversation that truly made me feel like I was doing what I was meant to be doing in life (a feeling that is actually not a given.)