Recent Press and Praise

Apr 6, 2009

FULL FRAME screening!

Wow! Although Team Genius had already arrived in Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham-Raleigh, North Carolina and were watching films and enjoying the famed hospitality, I arrived from Orlando in time to watch Wavy Gravy before we screened SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS on 4/3. First, one can't mention the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival without mentioning what a great documentary festival it is---the festival staff and volunteers are truly amazing---and the crowds are enthusiastic and love docs!! It is one of the best organized festivals I've seen and the hospitality is unquestionably grand. Filmmakers are housed at the Durham Marriott hotel---a welcomed change from other venues. After all the travel to/from Phoenix and Florida, I eyed the soft mattress and debated whether to dive into it or run to see Wavy Gravy. Like all good festival goers, I ignored my exhaustion and opted to see another film. And, of course, I was glad I did. Watching Wavy Gravy was like reading between the lines of SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS. They could be book-ended together as two sides of the same idealistic coin. The films could be called "opposite compliments" that documented stories and people that emerged from the same tumultuous times.

We screened after Wavy Gravy to a fun audience of some 300+ people! I generally know what scenes will bring laughter, but many in this crowd laughed the entire way through---some clapping and stamping their feet to the music or singing along to the bouncing ball!! Can you imagine that? Still others were murmuring or taken aback and literally gasped at the personal stories. The audience was completely responsive and emotionally involved. It turns out there were about a dozen Up With People alumni in the audience. In the Q&A, some alumni spoke about their personal experiences in the organization. Unfortunately I didn't get all this on tape.

I was pleased to learn that the President of the Up With People International Alumni Association was in the audience. She joined Up With People in 1966 at the age of 15, but left in 1968 and dropped off the alumni grid until the 40th reunion in 2005. We spoke for quite some time after the screening. Watching SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS was obviously an emotional experience for her (it is even for people who never participated in Up With People). It struck me that her desire, like many alumni, is that the film will be an opportunity for healing and conversation and that many alumni hope the new cast members will embody the original principles of Up With People (but without the dogma). She wouldn't comment on the film because she believed it was important to see it more than once to allow the emotions to settle and the story to be absorbed. Fantastic! It's definitely an emotionally varied doc that is jam-packed with twists and multi-layered stories so seeing it more than once is good advise.

Hopefully her comment will reach the 20,000 alumni who have yet to see the film, and resonate for non-Uppies who see it also. I had a local TV personality tell me how he was a hippie demonstrator in the 1960s, and that SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS "gave him closure" on the decade because he and his peers "hated Up With People and what they represented" and that "they were the enemy". But after seeing the film, he realized that they were all kids trying to do something positive in the world in a very complex time. It's healthy to come full circle and take a more-measured view of idealistic youthful choices. It's great to see the impact of SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS on viewers.

It also strikes me that many alumni forget that when they traveled they were just kids---kids full of hope and optimism and armed with an idealistic vision for a better world. Some view the film (or sadly just the clips on YouTube) through those youthful eyes and find it difficult to step back and view the organization in a historical and cultural context. They fear to delve into a conversation about the choices made. Much was at play on the world's chessboard, from politics and religion to corporate markets, race and freedom. That doesn't invalidate a positive youthful experience. SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS takes a broader viewpoint than participating in what some might simply call a singing cultural exchange program.

So go see it!
And see it again!

Because I took a flight back to Florida early the next day, I didn't get to spend nearly as much time in Full Frame as I would have liked. But our team was there and they had a fantastic time. It's a great social network, a festival packed with thoughtful docs, and set in a city with southern hospitality that is top notch. Be sure to put Full Frame on your calendar and attend next season. It's worth it! And from all of us at SMILE 'TIL IT HURTS: thank you to all the staff and volunteers at Full Frame who made the experience especially wonderful. It was a memorable time for all of us!

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