On Tour: Newport News, VA

10 Feb

February 5, 2015  | REBELS WITH A CAUSE | Newport News, VA

Screening 1 Temperature: 88° day, 86° night
Screening 2 Temperature: 43° day (feels like 33°), 20° night

Inside my knee-length down coat, the temperature felt about like the Virgin Islands!

The buildings at Christopher Newport University are almost all sparkling new because in the past 20 years, the university has demolished old buildings and built modern ones in their place. Everywhere I went, I saw students sitting in the abundant comfortable upholstered benches, chairs and couches. The library had a couple large quiet rooms, which I really enjoyed. Have you noticed how hard it is to find quiet space in your local public library?

Before I started the tour, National Sierra Club archival librarian Ellen Byrne (who helped us enormously in researching archival materials for Rebels) and Bruce Hamilton, the SC Conservation Director, introduced me to the Sierra Club Directors in all the states I was visiting, and I asked each of them to invite a local “rebel” to join me for the post-screening discussion. Glen Besa, the dynamic director of the Virginia State Sierra Club, joined me and my host, Dr. John Nichols, for the post-screening discussion.

2-5_Glen Besa

Glen Besa

The audience was mostly students. When I was a student, I desperately needed examples of how college-educated people lived and worked, and I thought maybe some of the audience might be looking for models as well. So I asked Glen to tell us what his day was like. He said, “I don’t need much sleep, I got up at 6 AM, and since the Virginia Assembly is in session, spent the day in Richmond, then drove an hour to Newport News for tonight’s screening. And on the way here, I had to pull over to email some information to a couple of reporters from my car.” Listening to him, the students in the audience barely shifted a muscle. Glen also told us he had hiked several times in the Point Reyes National Seashore while visiting the Sierra Club National Headquarters in San Francisco. Later, the Director of the Environmental Studies Department invited him to come back to speak to his classes. Glen was very happy he’d made the drive after what had already been a long, intense day.

Going to college changed my life, so I was glad John invited me to speak to his Film Theory and Culture class, which had only about 15 students. Beforehand, he told me he was teaching his students to identify lead actors, structure, and plot in movies like Rear Window and Citizen Kane. He also said some of the students were making their own films and asked me to talk about my experience. So I introduced myself by describing all the formats I’ve worked in—from 16mm reversal to 1” video to 35mm negative to hi def. Not surprisingly, none of them knew what reversal was. Before screening the Rebels opening sequence, I described how Kenji and I structured it to solve a problem work-in-progress audiences had with the number of characters in the film. We discovered when we prepared them up front for the many characters they would meet, they no longer had problems with that. When a student asked whether Rebels had a lead character, so I explained that each of the six “chapters” in the film had its own lead character, then showed what Kenji and I have always called the Clem Miller chapter. Before I started the clip, I told the students to identify the lead character. When the lights came up, and I asked, I saw only blank faces. After I told them it was Clem, I asked why they found it so hard to see that he was the lead. “Because he was dead!” they said. “A dead person can’t play the lead, right?” Then we talked about why, as the director, I say Clem is the lead, why a dead person can be the protagonist, and how the lead character drives the story forward. It was fun talking with them and John was happy that his students asked a couple questions that were new to him. It felt like what we talked about fit into what he wanted his students to learn.

Near the trailhead of where I went running that morning, I saw a statue of Leif Erickson, the Viking explorer of the New World.

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Nancy Kelly.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.


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