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On Tour: Shelley Rogers in Wilmington, DE

17 Oct
Upon arrival in Wilmington I was exhausted, but I was eager to meet my host and the incredible force of nature that she suggested I meet: Francine Covelli, of Francine’s Organic Kids.  She and I had already connected on the phone and on Facebook, so I was glad to be putting a face with a name.
When we all met up for appetizers before the screening, Francine’s eight-year-old stepdaughter, Azura, immediately sat down and asked me, “Are you famous?” I laughed heartily at the notion that a documentary filmmaker like me could be famous, but the whole question led to a very interesting conversation about the distinctions between narrative fiction films, both independent and blockbuster, and documentaries, which typically reach a smaller audience, but serve an important role in our cultural landscape.
The screening and Q&A at Theater N sparked an interesting conversation, in which nearly the whole audience participated.  One question was about the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). I talked about the short-sightedness of the biotech companies—how they now engineer the crops to contain “Round-up,” but as weeds are already evolving to be resistant to that pesticide, farmers are forced to use even more toxic chemicals to deal with the “super-weeds.”
I also mentioned the lack of evidence that GMOs actually yield more. I noted the unfortunate circumstance that many farmers in developing countries find themselves in after they borrow money to purchase GMO seeds and the chemicals that must accompany them, how in the meantime they destroy their seed heritage (most cultures save their seeds for generations), and then ultimately find out that the yields are no better. The farmers then face a mountain of debt and the integrity of their seed stock may be permanently jeopardized. Biotech companies have also been known to threaten and take action against farmers who have patented genetic material on their land, even though the farmer did not buy them or intend for it to be there
I explained that because there are no requirements to label GMO foods, we are all likely eating them unwittingly; and if we want to avoid eating them, the only way to do so right now is to eat organic food, since it prohibits the use of GMOs.
But there is a significant grassroots effort to label GMOs—complete with a Right to Know march from NYC to Washington, a viral “Just Label It” marketing campaign (click here to sign petition), and a class-action lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of the patent.  There is hope, but it’s an uphill battle.
The day after the screening, I headed to Francine’s little farm and learned that Francine’s Organic Kids was part Covelli’s heart & soul—a local initiative partnering with schools to provide hot, healthy, organic lunches, delivered daily.  She combined educational workshops for children, families, & educators with the food business.
While eating fresh eggs from her hens and delicious homegrown tomatoes, we found that we have much in common—even including the brief hiatus we each recently had to take in order to care for ailing parents. She hopes to reinvigorate the business, but for now Francine is focused on Farm Table dinners, bringing the community together and out to farms.  We even brainstormed about a weeklong series of dinners and films that we could do!
The funniest twist of irony of the tour came from this visit to Wilmington, though.  Upon returning home and rifling through emails, I came across one from an audience member whose wife had bought a DVD at the screening there.  His email was full of interesting conversation and very kind compliments, but also a simple request—would I mind if he mailed me the DVD cover to autograph and mail back for his wife? I thought autographs were strictly under the purview of the famous!
Of course, I happily said I would accommodate… Even if fame and glory are not fate of most documentarians, I’d much prefer authentic veneration that comes from genuine connections.
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, Shelley Rogers
Photos by MAAF Staff

On Tour: Shelley Rogers in Norfolk, VA

23 Sep

As I write on the train to Wilmington, DE, I’m puzzled by the odd state that only several days of nearly non-stop, purposeful and meaningful travel can produce—I’m between exhaustion and exhilaration, gratitude and wonderment, coming and going… And while I’m fighting off road weariness, yet unable to sleep, tired of schlepping around bags and wishing I’d somehow packed lighter (even though I’m still pretty sure that everything I brought was necessary and sadly realized the other day that I don’t have enough socks)… I’m filled with appreciation.

I’m on this amazing tour. I get to meet audiences and connect with them. What a gift.

My introduction to the kind folks at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA happened a few weeks before my arrival there when the Websmith, Gary Marshall, emailed me to request some photos that weren’t downloading properly from my website.  He sent a list of file names that intrigued him, one of which was called “Shelley.poultice.”

I figured that photo file required a bit of an explanation, so I sent him this story to elucidate the scene where it was taken:

“The poultice picture has a ‘nice weed’ story to it.  As we were shooting the apple harvest upstate, there were lots of insects buzzing around with all the sweetness in the air. Unfortunately, as I was shooting a hornet stung me on my hand! Luckily, though, John Gorzynski (farmer featured in film) quickly climbed down the tree, picked some plantain (a wide leafed weed that grows nearly everywhere there’s grass) and directed me to start chewing on it—the saliva of the stung person combines with the plant bring out a special, individualized remedy.  We placed the chewed up leaves on the sting and within a matter of minutes the throbbing stopped and I was able to continue shooting! As another farmer in the film said to me once, “Who says weeds are just weeds?”!!”

To my delight, his reply said:

“Thank you very much, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.  I’d add that I’d bring you something organic from my front yard for you to snack on during your visit, but Hurricane Irene pretty much blasted everything but my carrots, and my fall crops are still seed wannabes at this time.

Wonderful story about the poultice. Many, many years ago my grandmother from the hills of Kentucky did the exact same thing for a howling little kid. Me.”

I knew that if there was a fellow person there with a poultice connection, I was in for a treat.

When I arrived in Norfolk, I threw my bags down, quickly changed my clothes and headed right over to the Chrysler Museum to check out the scene.  After meeting the Education Director, Jennifer, and the Projectionist, Donna, we tested the DVD and I could relax. I went to make the make the acquaintance of Gary and found a warm, amiable friend who was willing to take me around on a brief tour of his favorite galleries in the museum.

As an art history major in college and a lover of nearly all things art, I was elated to see such a stunning collection. They have the Gaston Lachaise sculpture. Man, who is the counterpart to MoMA’s Woman, who is the subject of my mentor/professor George Stoney’s film Gaston Lachaise: Flesh in Ecstasy!

After hearing stories about Gary’s horticultural heritage (his grandmother tilled her own garden until she was 85 years old!) and his front yard vegetable garden that has inspired his neighbors to start composting and growing, too, it was time for the screening.

A nice crowd filed in (our youngest audience member at 4 months old!) and the lights dimmed. After the credits rolled and I opened the floor to questions/comments, the first audience member to speak stood to say, “My heart is beating out of my chest and I am speechless.  Thank you for such a wonderful film.” Floored by such a heartfelt compliment, I did my best to graciously thank her for her expression and more comments and questions came forth: “Where can we buy local organic?” “How do I find a coop to buy from?” “I liked that you didn’t shy away from talking about ‘big organic.’”

We had a nice discussion about “big organic” and I admitted how easy it is to get on the “down with corporations bandwagon,” but I also cautioned folks not to dismiss the potential good that can come when big players get involved in organic production. The environmental impact of widespread organic methods is significant.  Of course, we should still support local, organic first—indeed, in order to build healthy, robust regional food systems we must prioritize direct relationships between farmers and citizens—but in order to change the status quo, we have to change the whole system, not just part of it.

The best moment in Norfolk came at the end of the night when Education Director, Jennifer, her husband, Greg, and I sat on the porch of The Page House Inn drinking port.  Jennifer told me that that the museum guards who had to keep watch in the theater lobby fought to be able to take turns sitting in the chair outside that still had a view of the screen! And that the people at the front desk asked if they could leave their post to come to the theater!

Holy moly. I had no idea this film meant so much to people, but I will forever treasure that. When I think about all the years of struggle and grind it took to make the film, to know that urban museum employees are fighting for the chance to hear the stories of organic farmers makes it all worthwhile…

Jennifer told me as she was leaving that she has plans to have a staff screening so that all the museum guards and people at the front desk will finally get to see it, too, uninterrupted.

Post by Shelley Rogers, OSIP Touring Filmmaker.

Photos provided by Jennifer Schero of the Chrysler Museum.

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