We're back from Los Angeles.
Our fundraiser was a terrific success and we owe that entirely to Nick Offerman. He assembled an amazing lineup of performers (not the least of which was himself!) and managed to hold back a few huge surprise guests, too. More on that momentarily.
As the doors opened, we fired up a slideshow featuring a number of James Baker Hall photos of Wendell.
The audience streamed in over the course of an hour. Things kicked off proper around 8:45PM and Nick took to the stage to great applause. He thanked everyone for coming and then explained to the audience just who Mr. Wendell Berry was and why his work merited their attention. (If we have our history correct, Offerman himself was introduced to Berry's writing by actor Leo Burmester on November 5, 1995, during their work together on Steppenwolf's production of BURIED CHILD.)
Nick explained to the audience what a promising literary career the young Wendell Berry was enjoying. After graduating from UK, he had been invited to attend Stanford's creative writing program. Upon completing his first novel, Berry and his family lived in Europe courtesy of a Guggenheim Fellowship. A year later, in 1962, Berry accepted a teaching position at NYU. Here was a man who truly had the world before him, Offerman explained, yet Berry surprised everyone when he announced he was leaving New York to return to his native Kentucky. He would move back to his own people in Henry County, Kentucky. And from the small town of Port Royal (population ±79) Berry would go on to write dozens of enduring short stories, novels, poems and works of non-fiction. And love his wife. And raise his children. And farm his land. And be a member of his true community.
I don't think Nick's rendition of Berry's arc was lost on this audience. Los Angeles, like New York, is a city where people move to "make it." It's not a place those in the process of "making it" would necessarily think to leave. Yet Berry himself did something like that. And for Berry, that has made all the difference. But I digress.
Nick then said that if everyone in this country would read Wendell Berry, it would be an immeasurably better place to live. He went on to share his excitement that a documentary was being made to bring greater awareness to Berry's thinking. After some kind words about THE UNFORESEEN (Two Birds' previous documentary) Nick then shared the audience would now get to see a brief preview of the opening moments of the film. We then played the first four minutes of our 22 minute teaser. Backstage, incidentally, a number of folks stepped up the view the footage from the wings, including Nick's lovely wife Megan Mullally.
This particular clip ended with a FORTY PANES title card and a cursor flying onto the screen to click pause. Nick elicited more than a few laughs when he commented that our production was so in need of money that it couldn't even afford to put a fade out after the title card. Nick then brought director Laura Dunn on stage. She thanked everyone for coming and let them know that tonight's proceeds would pay for our next location shoot in Kentucky. Laura also thanked our friends from Sundance Institute in the audience as well as composer Kerry Muzzey. She then graciously exited to stage left as Nick introduced a three minute clip from one of Laura's recent interviews with Wendell.
The Largo forbids photography of performances, so we thought we'd share scenes from backstage.
We wanted to publicly thank all of the additional performers and others who contributed to make the evening a success. We've linked to their Twitter accounts where possible, but in some cases they don't use social media, and alternate links are used.
In order of their appearance on stage, they are:
(Came out and read Wendell Berry's "The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer!" For real.) Sam doesn't appear to do Social Media, but check this AV Club interview with Elliott where Nick gets caught again sharing his love for Wendell Berry)
"I really enjoyed Nick [Offerman]. Not to belabor it, but he’s a very smart guy. I left there with a couple of books that he passed on to me by a guy named Wendell Berry, and they’re pretty heady stuff. Even though they’re kind of simplistic on some level, they’re really well written, and they’re the kind of books that you’ve really got to work at to get into. I’m not a voracious reader, and I’ve been on kind of a fast track lately, so every time I sit down to read Wendell Berry at night, it’s like, I’ve got to f@!*in go back and find my way in, because it’s really incredible writing. In the last two months, though, my wife Katharine’s read both books. I’m still fighting my way through the first one! [Laughs.] That’s all I can say about Offerman, other than that he’s a f@!*in great guy: He’s a man of the earth, and he’s a smart guy. He’s going to make a big contribution to this game, I think."
Sundance Institute invited us to become Documentary Fellows program and four friends from the documentary institute attended the evenings performances. David Courier, Kristin Feeley, John Cardellino and Tabitha Jackson.
Largo at the Coronet proprietor Mark Flanagan who generously donated the theater for the evening.
Composer Kerry Muzzey, whose music graced a good portion of our last film THE UNFORESEEN, was himself in attendance. Thanks Kerry!
The James Baker Hall Archive graciously allowed us to show some select photos of Wendell Berry made by fellow Kentuckian James Baker Hall. Hall's friendship with Wendell spanned many decades and but for his inspired and prolific shooting, the visual record of Berry's early life would be far fewer and further between. We're especially indebted to James' wife Mary Ann Taylor-Hall and JBH archivist Sarah Wylie A. VanMeter.
(Lest you fear the night was a wash for the performers, please note that they did not go entirely uncompensated as each received Offerman Woodshop Tee Shirts. We probably don't need to tell you how cool that is.)
To say we were humbled by the generosity of Nick and his friends is an understatement. We truly want to again thank each one of them. We hope you all like the film you have helped fund!