Guest Blogger Allen Mondell directed the documentary A Fair to Remember with his wife, Cynthia Salzman Mondell. Allen is currently touring the film in Lithuania as part of the American Documentary Showcase sponsored by the State Department. He will be blogging for Art&Seek about his experiences; here is his second report from the road:
I’ll get right to the commercial side of this blog. No one approached me about a corny dog franchise, but the little guy in the film stuffing himself with 18 dogs in 10 minutes and winning the contest brought some laughter.
And a packed Vilnius theater practically rolled in the isles during the pig races. Pork is a very popular item on the Lithuanian menu, so, while most of their experience are on a plate, they loved seeing the pigs streak around the State Fair track.
I made a few comments to the audience in my almost fluent Lithuanian learned after just two days in the city. I told them I would be very curious about how they might compare our State Fair with fairs or festivities in their own country.
Because the theater was so full with people sitting on cushions in the aisles and just beneath the screen, I could only sit on the seat they saved for me on the front row. This meant I couldn’t read the audience and could only hear some audible responses. I didn’t hear much but learned later at a reception following the film sponsored by the American Embassy in Vilnius that people were responding to some of the humor. That said, they applauded enthusiastically during the credits, and only one person left the theater.
Needless to say, I was excited and anticipated a lively discussion. I thanked them for staying and opened the floor for questions. No one raised a hand. Oops.
I smiled, told them I hoped they didn’t mind that I took some pictures so that my co-producer/wife would stop hocking me about blogging and picture-taking and then launched into brief explanations of parts of the film I thought a foreign audience might not get. I went on for a few minutes and asked again for any questions. None.
Fortunately, in a conversation with a Lithuanian filmmaker the day before, he told me that the Lithuanian audiences can be shy. So I explained a little more about parts of the film that I thought they might not fully understand. Then, I spotted among the audience a raised hand. The viewer then asked how long the film took to make, because there seemed to be a lot of research that went into the making of the film. I not only launched into the answer but also was grateful. That was it – no more questions, but a seemingly pleased audience.
I learned later at the reception sponsored by the American Embassy that, in addition to their general shyness, the people were also probably a little hesitant to ask questions in English. A translator was supposed to be there but was not. By the way, the film had Lithuanian subtitles, which looked pretty good, even with my three-word vocabulary.
At the reception, after a glass of wine or two, two women approached me asking about the Ku Klux Klan and Negro Achievement Day (above). They then accused us of being sexist because of the segment where the man from the 1941 State Fair promotional film bosses a woman around. They were just kidding, but I took the opportunity to tell them my wife was a feminist, and that they should see our film about the women’s rights convention in Houston in 1977.
Another woman, a lawyer, also asked me about Negro Achievement Day, that period in the Fair’s history when African Americans could buy food and go on the rides on only one day during the Fair.
I want to add here that in the short time I’ve been in Vilnius, walking a lot, I have only seen white faces and have learned that there are very few minorities of color in the country.
Others from the reception enjoyed the glimpses of American life and the music of Brave Combo. Finally, a man who was with the municipal government, like our City Council, said he enjoyed the film so much he wanted me to do one about Lithuanian fairs. A pleasant thought and compliment at the end of a long and rewarding day.