November 17th, 2013 | Mr. Cao Goes to Washington | Erie, PA
Hello again, Philly Airport terminal F. I suppose one cannot travel around the mid-Atlantic states without passing though the same airport over and over again, and my airport of choice is apparently PHL. I don’t recall having ever been on so many propeller planes in such a short stretch, and today I am taking one from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and another from Philly across Pennsylvania to Erie.
I know next to nothing about Erie, except that it is a rust belt city 2 hours from Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburg. The city, which sits on the Great Lake that it is named after, is bigger than I thought. I arrive at my hotel to witness dozens of middle-age ladies filing off of a tour bus. The hotel clerk tells me that this particular area in Erie, right off Interstate 90, is a popular shopping spot for folks in the surrounding towns, and women take chartered buses so they can come on weekends to shop. This is confirmed when I enter the elevator surrounded by giggly women taking up twice as much space as they should because each is holding at least a half-dozen shopping bags.
My OSIP activities start the following morning at WQLN, the local NPR/PBS affiliate. I meet Tom, the station programmer, and Jamie Grady, the director for Mercyhurst Institute for the Arts and Culture (MIAC), which is the On Screen In Person host site. Boy, are these guys punchy for a Sunday morning. They banter about the performers who are in town. Apparently, the Mr. Cao Goes to Washington screening this afternoon is up against a popular Japanese taiko drum troop that sells out whenever they are in town, as well as, of all people, Elton John. I guess I should adjust my expectation accordingly! Tom and I have a long chat about Mr. Cao for his radio program “On Film.” Then Jamie and I are off to his arts management class at Mercyhurst University. There I speak to his students about the sustainability of a documentary filmmaking career. I do believe that programmers and arts managers should learn as much as possible about the realities of the artists whose work they exhibit.
We get a pretty good turnout at the screening in spite of Sir Elton John playing across town. During the Q&A, one older lady is particularly vocal. “Does the Congressman still have a relationship with your President?” My President? She goes on to compare “Obama and Osama” and recites some other Tea Party choice quotes. After the Q&A, she comes up to me and complements me some more on the film, then purchases a copy of the DVD. Should I have refused her and told her that the inflammatory words she has been echoing are tearing this country up? But she seems just a harmless, eccentric, and misguided old lady, instead of a scary “Tea Bagger.” Things are always more complicated in practice than they are in theory.
After a nice detour downtown with Jamie for a snack, a couple of beers, and some good conversation, I head back to the hotel fairly early in the evening. A severe weather system has been wreaking havoc in the Midwest. Dozens of tornados destroyed several towns in Illinois, killing 3 people. Erie will be under a high wind advisory tonight. I hope I will be able to get out on the morning flight. Lake Placid, New York, is next.
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, S. Leo Chiang