November 12th, 2013 | Mr. Cao Goes to Washington | West Long Branch, NJ
On a particularly beautiful fall morning in San Francisco, I head east to start my On Screen/In Person tour. My film, Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, about the two eventful years that former New Orleans Congressman Joseph Cao spent in the US House of Representatives, has been making the rounds on the film festival circuit for the past year and a half, and had its PBS broadcast this past January. A November tour in the Mid Atlantic region seems particularly appropriate, given the recent, closely-watched Governor elections in both New Jersey and Virginia.
My first stop takes me to Monmouth University in West Long Branch along the northern New Jersey coast. With some free time before the scheduled events, I visit Asbury Park–clearly a popular destination for the OSIP filmmakers according to the previous blog posts! I have been here once before in July, when its boardwalk was packed with giggling high schoolers on summer break. On this Tuesday morning in November, the town feels quite different. The boardwalk is completely abandoned. Shops are closed. Cold wind blows in from the gray and ominous looking Atlantic Ocean. I do not mind it, however. I find the lonely beauty of a deserted beach town quite exquisite.
I leave Asbury Park to meet Professors Andrew Demirjian and Matt Lawrence on the Monmouth Campus. I am speaking in Matt’s media literacy class. I show the 20 or so undergraduates a short clip from Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, followed by a lively discussion about the film, documentary as a genre, and non-fiction media that is everywhere today (from 24-hour news channels to reality shows). The students ask excellent questions about the process of documentary filmmaking. We talk about the difference between traditional journalism with its focus on impartiality, versus documentary-making that emphasizes storytelling with distinct points of views. I am happy to hear that a couple of students already are documentary fans. They mentioned the 30 For 30 series on ESPN and Super High Me (this one making perfect sense for a college audience).
It is perfect timing to show Mr. Cao Goes to Washington in New Jersey, since the Garden State just reelected its incumbent Republican Governor Chris Christie. For those not familiar with Christie, he is the larger-than-life centrist Republican who came to national prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Christie is widely considered one of the front runners for 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and he just won reelection by a 20-point margin, quite a feat in a firmly blue state.
Matt, a New Jersey native, talks about how Gov. Christie has managed to get reelected. Christie has a populist, man-of-the-people appeal to the voters. He is charismatic and is known to speak his mind. In Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, I explored the difficulty centrist Republicans have experienced in the current ultra partisan political climate, especially with the Republican getting pulled further to the right by the Tea Party. It will be interesting to continue tracking how Gov. Christie progresses politically in the next few years.
The screening venue, the Pollak Theater, turns out to be excellent. Kickass surround sound, and one of the best DVD projections my films have had. Prof. Michael Phillips-Anderson and Matt join me on the panel. Questions from the audience come consistently. A gentleman asks if I had imagine an ideal ending that is different from what ended up in the film. Congressman Cao lost badly in his reelection campaign. I suppose that if he had instead won his reelection, perhaps the audience who has been cheering for him would have been more satisfied with this happy ending. More intriguingly, had Joseph switched party to become a Democrat, that would have been a heck of a plot twist.
Back in my charming bed and breakfast. A successful first stop. Onwards tomorrow to Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, S. Leo Chiang