Thursday night, February 17th, I attended a screening of The Last Survivor at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. About 8 months ago, Shan Jabara, the Executive Director of the Tallgrass Film Festival contacted us about screening LS for their monthly film series. Righteous Pictures happily obliged and sent me on my way to the Midwest.
I landed in Wichita around noon on the day of the screening. I must say, it’s a major culture shock going from Manhattan to Wichita; 8 million people versus half-a-million; skyscrapers versus sprawling landscapes; fast and furious versus slow and deliberate. Kansas provided me a much-needed respite from the frenetic energy that engulfs the “city that never sleeps.”
Shan picked me up from the airport and we headed to lunch where I met representatives from the 3 hosts/co-sponsors of the screening: the Tallgrass Film Festival, the Multi-cultural department at Wichita State University, and the Ulrich Museum of Art. I received a warm greeting and immediately knew that this would be a memorable trip; these were not people who took this film or our cause lightly.
On our way to the Ulrich Museum of Art on the 240+ acre campus of Wichita State University I learned a few fun facts about WSU:
1. The founders of Pizza Hut were students there and the original Pizza Hut HQ is right on campus.
2. The world’s largest Miro (the famous Spanish painter) mural adorns the outer wall of the Ulrich Museum of Art.
3. WSU’s collection of sculptures on campus is among the top 7 university collections in the USA.
Upon arriving at the museum, I was taken aside by a senior at WSU named Megan Pauly. She was writing for The Sunflower, the school paper, and wanted to interview me about The Last Survivor. We sat and talked for a half-hour on the balcony of the museum. Here is a link to the interview: http://bit.ly/iaO7WP.
The museum’s curator invited me to view a multi-media installation that the museum displayed in conjunction with the screening of our film. “We wish to inform you that we didn’t know,” by renowned artist, Alberto Jaar, comprises numerous forms of media showcasing the horrifying events of the Rwandan genocide and highlighting the lack of attention it received from around the world. The footage of testimony from Rwandan survivors coupled with speeches by former President Bill Clinton and other politicians was difficult to watch, but certainly set the stage the screening of The Last Survivor.
The screening room was spacious and beautiful, with close to 150 people settled into their seats ready to watch the film. Although I have seen it countless times, this screening yet again managed to elicit from me a strong emotional reaction.
The Last Survivor ended with many in the audience fighting back or wiping away tears, and the Q&A, moderated by my new friend, Shan, was set to begin. I fielded many questions and remained on-stage for a solid hour-twenty after the film was finished. I was glad. There is no better indicator of how the film played than the audience’s interest in finding out more when it is done.
As always, I left the screening filled with joy and hope. If people all over our country truly care about these issues, then perhaps we can alleviate some of these crises, or one day, eliminate them altogether. I am a hopeful person, and sometimes my optimism can be my downfall, but I firmly believe that we are headed in the right direction and that The Last Survivor will help us get there.
After leaving WSU, Shan and the clan invited me to join them at a dive bar for some drinks and a light supper. Of course I said “yes” and subsequently ate some delicious bruschetta and downed 2 glasses of Righteous Pictures’ signature drink, Jonny Walker Black (on the rocks). At dinner, we spoke about the success of the screening and the road ahead. I long to revisit Wichita and promised our dear friends at the festival, museum, and university that I would do my very best to bring future films to Tallgrass.
On my plane ride home, I looked out at “big sky country,” as the Wichitans call it, and felt euphoric. Life can truly take you to interesting and unexpected places.
So, this screening of The Last Survivor will be one of many in 2011. As I read Dave Eggers’ book, “What is the What,” which at its core is about a search for meaning in life, I feel lucky that I have found meaning in mine. I intend upon bringing this film to audiences around the world in an effort to promote tolerance, battle indifference, and inspire advocates for positive change.
Wishing you all much health and happiness.
Over and out-