talking heads, informed heads, empty heads
Last night was working on a slice of pizza outside my fave pie shop, on South Congress, here in Austin. Ran into an amigo, who had been an intern of mine 10 years ago. Had his 5-month old babe in the cradle over his arm, and his wife on the other arm. Good to see them.
Speaking of being seen, he'd said "Hey, saw you on TV. We Tivoed you. Will check it out when we come up for air." And the day before, it was a next door neighbor, in my neighborhood not unlike that of King of the Hill. "Hey, was watching this documentary the other night, and then saw you come on!" Then there was the acquaintence-cum-associate who i bumped into outside a theatre who'd seen the same program. "Well, you had some poignant remarks. Right on the money."
I guess what i find surprising is that people - my neighbors, my friends and associates - watch PBS. Me? I don't have cable, so when i need a fix of something to jostle the brain a bit, and i'm not tucked into a book at home, PBS often does the trick.
Here in Austin we have a show on KLRU, our PBS station, called SXSW Presents, hosted by the preternaturally film-savvy Matt Dentler, film programming maestro of South By Southwest. He picks documentarys to air and bookends the films with a panel of pundits to pontificate on the project at hand. For this third season of SXSW Presents, Dentler notes, "The big difference is that we are expanding the episodes to include not just the films themselves but related conversations and panels with the filmakers and figures in the local film and arts community who will be hanging out, talking, and just kind of sharing their thoughts on the films. The idea of this whole show in the first place was to try and bottle what an experience at a film festival - particularly South by Southwest - would be like. But on your television."
Matt and I know each other from our roles on the board of directors of the Austin Film Society, so I guess that's how I got the call to wax philosophic. For me, it's always another opportunity to see a film that i may dig, changing the way i think or offering up insight of some kind.
The actual taping of our segments, some months back, reminded me of my first time on TV, on a local kid's show in the Boston area. There, at age 12, I ended up on a panel with two other kids and the show's host, discussing the tree the city had removed from in front of a little girl's home. My debut consisted of me, chin in hand, speaking into my fist.
Now, having been a public speaker of sorts for many years, the hands have a life of their own, emphasizing, bringing to life ideas, or punctuating the air. And they make for better television, in lieu of talking heads. and now somewhat media-savvy, i know enough to wear black that my figure slips into the background of the dark theatre, only head and hands showing. And the white from my Chuck Taylors, in case my daughter ever sees the show inadvertantly, recognizing where her once-trademark sneakers came from
The film this past week was Dreams of Sparrows, a documentary I saw at SXSW '05, made by a filmmaker in Bagdad, not long after "liberation" by the U.S. While I may have an opinion about 24 Hours on Craig's List, that phenomenon has little weight compared to that of war-torn civilians.
The film should be required viewing, in sight of the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. Had tens of thousands of U.S. citizens died by now, the outrage would be burning holes in our souls. But it's them, not us.
Maybe more people are watching than i imagined. Maybe more people care than i think. But I also thought we were a smarter people as a whole. It would be cynical to say we get what we deserve. WOULD it be cynical to say our uninformed masses voted for an idiot that dragged us against our will into Iraq? No. The guy was voted in TWICE. By the uninformed. Does anyone believe GW ever read a history book in his life? Does anyone believe he spent an evening on his own watching documentaries?
Boy, sometimes I surprise myself. Often I'll start to write knowing where I'm heading. Didn't know this was gonna end with a take on politics. Okay, for more on SXSW Presents, do the google thing or check out: www.klru.org