March 7th, 2013 | ABEL RAISES CAIN | Roanoke, VA
Roanoke, here we come! I find the passing landscape so beautiful with its tattered barns and bare trees atop rolling hills covered with snow. I’m lulled to sleep by the imagery and I dream about a packed house at the museum laughing uproariously at our movie. I’m awakened suddenly by the smell of fish. Our dog, Cecil, is panting heavily in my direction.
My dad is in the middle of asking again, “Are we there yet?” which he jokingly does every half-an-hour or so. After that harrowing nine-hour drive from Oswego, NY to Richmond, VA, a three-hour drive is nothing. Although I’m one to talk, as Jeff is doing all of the
driving. My father keeps saying stuff to jinx us along our journey. “Hey, there’s no traffic!” and “Oh, we’ll get there with plenty of time to spare” and “Wow, this car runs like a top. I’m sure it will never break down.” The ultimate jinx happened when he joked, “Well, at least weather won’t be an excuse for people not to show up at our screening in Roanoke.” The sun was blaring, but it was still chilly outside.
We checked into the Sheraton and it was a sprawling network of Kubrick-esque hallways. It took us fifteen minutes of walking on a paisley carpet treadmill to reach our room. We were pleasantly surprised at the accommodations, however. It’s one of the fanciest hotels I’ve stayed at in a long time!
Just minutes away, the Taubman Museum of Art is a surreal dreamlike structure. Its awesome presence guards the corner of a quaint downtown area. It was a tease not being able to check out the exhibits inside. The museum was closed by the time we arrived and had we only left the hotel a bit earlier, we could have wandered around some. But that would be so unlike the Abels to actually allow extra time and be early for anything! The guard on duty reminded me of Andy Griffith. Far from mild-mannered, he was poised for action and ready to pounce. We were chased by him and reprimanded when we accidentally stepped an inch over the border into an off-limits area as we were trying to locate the auditorium.
I was told by our hosts that our screening was a highly anticipated event and that the local arts high school students were excited about it. Our community activity, which was slated to be a meet and greet with the students, unfortunately didn’t happen due to unforeseen circumstances. Had it happened, it probably would have made the difference in terms of generating interest and getting people to actually come out that night. But the sad news to report is that, aside from a few local folks, only two students came! Which is such a shame, seeing as how admission was free for them. But perhaps it’s a sign of the times. Why would any young person venture out of the house to see a movie these days when there are an infinite number of other things to watch, listen to and do, all accessible in the palm of one’s hand?
Reflecting back over the past couple of months, I wondered if some of the host sites thought my proactive PR efforts were a nuisance. But what happened in Roanoke is precisely the reason why I feel it’s necessary for a filmmaker to supplement a venue’s outreach campaign with his/her own. Problems arise when you get comfortable and think, “Oh, they’ve got that covered already” and you imagine crowds of people overflowing at the ticket booth. The reality is you have to bust your buns up until showtime. I guess I got comfortable and I kicked myself for it afterwards. Even with social media, the art of self-promotion is something I have not mastered.
Despite the fact that attendance was low, the few people who did come seemed to thoroughly enjoy the film. One of the women from the audience thanked me for “sharing this loving testament to my remarkable Mom and Dad.” Honestly, that means a tremendous amount to me and makes the entire experience worthwhile.
After the screening, we held a brief Q&A. My father is routinely asked if it is difficult to pull off a prank in today’s internet age. And the truth of the matter is that the elaborate stunts he used to do might not fly today, like Idi Amin’s fake green card wedding. But that’s not to say our modern media isn’t capable of falling for a sensational story, no matter how absurd the subject matter.
As soon as the theatre doors opened for folks to make their exit, my dad turned into a carnival barker, getting people to buy copies of his books. He then proceeded to practically accost the audience members, not letting them leave until they did buy something! Speaking of barking, in retrospect, we really should have done a creative PR campaign to alert the Roanoke community about the screening. As we were leaving town, we read in the paper that there was a dog show the week before at the Taubman Museum of Art. Maybe the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals should have revived its moral agenda and made an appearance to picket the lewd nude animals inside. That surely would have turned some heads! It’s okay. We’ll get ’em next time.
Post by OSIP Touring filmmaker, Jenny Abel