On Tour: The Silence

12 Sep

The story of screening TRUST at the Allentown Symphony is one of being reminded to keep things in perspective.

Thursday was one of those awful travel days – thanks to tropical storm Lee, my plane was hours late landing in Philadelphia, President Obama declared Pennsylvania a disaster area, and I had no idea whether what lay ahead on the road from Philadelphia to Allentown – maybe cresting rivers?  I was anxious about whether I’d arrive in time for the evening screening and fuming in a long line at the rental car agency when Robin Flores from the Allentown Symphony called to say she had just spoken with the teacher who’d screened TRUST that afternoon for fifty of her students.  Apparently this particular class was a rowdy bunch of students, but they sat riveted through the entire film.  Even after the lights came up, all fifty sat, very still, in complete silence for a full minute.  I struggled not to burst into tears – that’s how Kenji Yamamoto, my filmmaking partner and husband, intended audiences to respond to TRUST.  And with that, the bad travel day anxieties faded into the distance, where they belonged.

The following morning, Robin and I arrived bright and early at Lehigh Valley Performing Arts School in Bethlehem, a charter school of 600 plus students. Theater teacher Diane Wagner led us into the black box theater, where the fifty students who had seen TRUST wanted to talk about the silence.  They said they were usually a boisterous audience, leaping to their feet to give a standing ovation after seeing something they like, but after seeing TRUST, no one moved, no one said a word.  One young man said that after the lights came up, he was feeling and thinking about so many things, he thought it would have cheapened the experience not to have that silence.

The students told me Ms Wagner had paused the film part way through, because they were crying so hard after hearing the incest part of Marlin’s story, she felt they needed a break.  When Kenji and I were editing TRUST, our concept was to break Marlin’s storytelling into four sequences, so that after each sequence, the audience would think that her story couldn’t get more traumatic, but then, in the next sequence, it would.

The class is made up of 11th and 12th graders who have been together in the theater class since 9th grade.  Ms Wagner said right now, they are casting for a play and the students are consumed their individual concerns about auditions and parts.  From her perspective, one of the best effects of showing TRUST was seeing the students regain perspective about the big picture, the community of their theater class, and raise their heads above all the trying details of auditioning. She said she planned to buy a copy of TRUST and show it every year.

This is what I live for – what a great experience.

Post written by Nancy Kelly, On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker

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