Archive | August, 2011

All good things…

17 Aug

Houston would be our last stop. There, on the steps leading to our hotel, we said our goodbyes. Rogier and Rob head an afternoon flight for Brussels, Ben flew straight to NYC, and Matt headed to Syracuse.  A few hugs, and the taxi man drives you away.

We can’t thank enough the beautiful people that made this journey possible — Elinor Tatum, Kristin, Russel Banks, Ann and Rachel, Mia, Sheriff Wiley, Dana, Carol Heard, Oscar, Ms Duren, Mr Montgomery, the Wingate family, Kevin, Vivacious Val, Jacqueline, Johan, Charles Evers, Bob and Billie, Bill, Derek, LaDonne, Diane, Tommy, and many, many others we met along the way.

And a big thank you to the radio stations, news magazines, and newspapers that were there with us every state we hit.

6 States, 14 hotels, thousands of miles. But none of that compares to the amazing people we met. More so than any other journey, every state we went to had its own life. Each state had something to really hold onto.

Packing up your things, grabbing the pavement, and heading out onto the road, that’s something that is distinctly, and beautifully, American. And here we were, two foreigners and two Americans, going off and trying to do something that has never been done before. But through all this — through the miles, the hotels, the restaurants, the ups and the downs, the backroads, and the dead-ends — one thing has remained true: it’s the people that make this country great. They didn’t have to let us into their homes, but they did. They didn’t have to meet us for coffee, show us onto their pontoon boat, reveal parts of themselves, but they did.

Nowadays, it’s easy to lose sight on the good in people. It’s easy to write people off as rude, as uncaring. A person does you wrong, the actions of people on the news get you down — it’s become the thing nowadays to not trust people, to stick close to what we know and hold tight to that.  But from town to town, we found how that belief kept falling to the side. People are good. People do let you into your home and treat you like family. People surprise you.  People change and people grow. You can come in with a preconceived idea of someone, and two days later, everything you thought you knew goes right out the window. That’s an amazing thing.

We don’t know everything. And we don’t really know what makes a person until we take the time to get to know them. The people we met during these five weeks are as unique as anyone could be. But never once did they push us aside, never once did they tell us to go somewhere else. It takes great compassion to believe in the good in others. It takes care to know that people aren’t what they seem.

We set off to show America. We set off to show our audience that America is full of many different kinds of people, many different voices, and many different lives. But through it all, we are bound together by life. And in the end, these differences actually bring us together.

Once again, endless thanks to the great people of New York, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. You made this journey incredible. We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. And it’s nice to know that wherever life takes us, we always have a place in your home to hang our hats and catch up on old times.

Here’s to you all.

Texas Hospitality

17 Aug

The best way to end our time in Texas — a wonderful dinner with new friends, swimming in the pool, laughing and chatting away until the wee hours of the morning.

No better way to end our 5-week journey.

Texas welcomes you

13 Aug

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Last stop: TEXAS

13 Aug

Here we are in Texas.

When we first made our way into Texas, things didn’t look good. No one knew about the Amsterdam, everyone said it didn’t exist. No signs, no markers — nothing. We headed past Liverpool, TX, and ended up at this little river spot known as Horeshoe Bend. A lady there told us that there is no more “Amsterdam.” She said it’s now called Horseshoe Bend. We got instantly discouraged. Was this going to be like Mississippi where there is no more Amsterdam? How can we make this work? We were left with many more questions than answers.

The biggest game-changer was a contact we found — Bob Johnson. We received his information through the City of Alvin. We were told he actually lives in Amsterdam. Around coffee, we chatted “He lives in Amsterdam. That means it has to be something.” We were still not sure of what this town would bring us, but there was more hope in our hearts.

Bob met us at our hotel. We got on right away. We asked him if Amsterdam still exists. He assured us that it did.

“I live there. Been living there for 30 years.”

We took an instant sigh of relief. It exists! We have something!

We spoke  with  Bob a little bit longer. He, then, agreed to show us to his home. We drove past Liverpool, and then, took a left into his neighborhood. His neighborhood is just splendid. All the house are on stilts, each one is unique and carries its own flavor. We met his wife, Billie, who is just all-around fantastic in every way possible. We chatted more and more, they took us around the area, and soon, we started to see the shots come alive. We had our Amsterdam. The morning brought a lot of worries, the afternoon was our saving grace.

We knew, then, that Bob and Billie would be our way into Amsterdam. And, honestly, we can’t imagine two people more honest, more giving, and more fun than these two. They make this final really something amazing.

More to come…

Bleeding purple and gold

10 Aug

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What makes this trip one of a kind is that you never know what you’re going to find along the road. People come into your life, and they leave just as fast. When we left New Orleans, we weren’t sure what Baton Rouge would bring. We had one name: Jacqueline. She was a contact through our friend, Adelaide.

We met Jacqueline at a Starbucks. We thought she was perfect. We went to a great restaurant within the city. There, we spoke to her about how the day would go. A few hours later, we were ready to shoot. She looked just gorgeous in this blue dress. We shot her by the levees. Ben put down the dolly and we were ready to go. With Jacqueline walking across the stone and the setting sun over the Mississippi, we really caught something remarkable.

After that, Jacqueline found us a great old house where we filmed her and her husband, Johan, in a recreation of an Edward Hopper painting. Jacqueline found a great top and skirt, red and pink. Johan found a blue shirt. They looked perfect together. With the lights, the woosh of the fan — it was a brilliant evening. You look at the painting and then you look at them, there’s almost no difference.

From there, Johan and Jacqueline invited us over for dinner. That’s the thing about the South. You meet someone for a few hours, and they’re already inviting you into their home. That simply doesn’t happen back east.

The next day, Johan was able to procure some of his business associates to come down and let us take portraits of them. We got about 10- folks in total. They all were up for it. We had some reservations that we wouldn’t get enough portraits, but Johan came through.

When that was over, we drove an hour to Champagne Boat Tours. We grabbed a boat and headed out onto the bayou. The captain got out of the boat, walked over to the momma alligator and started getting it riled up. The alligator started snapping at him and hissing at him. The bayou is the kind of place that doesn’t exist anymore. The quiet, the solitude, the nature. It’s a new world, completely.

In the end, Johan and Jacqueline really opened Baton Rouge to us. It’s interesting how fast strangers can become friends. So many times, we pass by people and we forget about them. Every person we have come across has become our family. Strangers no more.

New Podcast

8 Aug

WRKF Podcast with Jim Engster

A Proper Mississippi Goodbye

8 Aug

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We left Mississippi on a great note. Much thanks to the great people and places. Amsterdam may not be there anymore, but the heart and the soul of Mississippi is still alive and well.

The last few days

7 Aug

We closed out our time in Mississippi this week. We thought we could get a top shot on the roof of town hall, but that didn’t come through. Instead, we adjusted. We found these kids who ride horses across the town, we found little pockets of the Old Amsterdam that still exist. Thankfully, we didn’t find any snakes! Edwards, MS began as a town we didn’t really know what to do with — could it work? do we have enough to go with? how are we going to make this happen? There were a lot of worries. But we came  in with an open mind, and we took on the town. Val, Charles Evers, Nancy, Dave, Oscar — these people we didn’t plan on finding, but we did and it made all the difference. We also had tapped into the media in a great way — two radio spots and a newspaper that really wanted to follow us. Everyone we meet always says “why would you want to film here.” Looking back on our time in MS, we had good reason to film here. Thank you to everyone in Edwards and Vicksburg that made our stay so worthwhile. We will miss you. We will miss your town.

Yesterday, a much deserved day-off came our way. We spent it, as everyone should spend days off, in New Orleans. What a town! There are trams, there is amazing coffee, there is so much music. It’s a really spectacular town. Rogier found his way to the WWII museum and an art gallery. Rob walked around the city, soaking up the life that exists. That’s really the thing that separates New Orleans from other cities — the life. The pulse of the city is always at a fever pitch. It’s incredible. The second you step inside, the music and the colors and the people grab you. It’s infectious. There is nothing small or inhibited about New Orleans, and that’s what makes it great.

Today was spent mostly driving. We did get some great shots on a ferry boat across the Mississippi. For $1, you can take it back and forth. Set up the tri-pod, shot some gorgeous pieces on the water.

In Baton Rouge right now. A gorgeous Embassy Suites hotel. Tomorrow, we have a lot to do. Sleep well. We will see you in the morning.

 

Sheriff Wiley Griffin

4 Aug

 

“Rob, Roger, Ben, and Matt. It was an interestings two days with the Boys from Belgium. My staff and I enjoyed the company with the ” gang of four ” moviemakers. However we were disappointed in Roger and Rob always eating salads instead of fried pickles and buffalo chicken wings, Learn to eat southern when you in the South boys, you can’t live forever! Hope your documentary makes millions, but don’t forget your friends back here in south Georgia ten miles from the red dirt road of Amsterdam, Ga. Good luck boys and if you get stopped speeding again hope that there is a forgiving sheriff around! Say hello to all the gang for me and wish you God Speed in the future, Sheriff Wiley.”

Another place in history

4 Aug

 

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Yesterday, we had a radio interview with WMPR. It’s one of Mississippi’s premier radio stations, playing blues, R&B, gospel, and soul. The interview was pretty quick, but like a lot of your encounters, it became something even more special.

Charles Evers runs WMPR. Charles Evers is the brother of Medgar Evers. Medgar was a famous Civil Rights activist. His brother, Charles, was there on the front lines with him. Bobby Kennedy, Nixon, Bush, Muhammed Ali — Mr Evers knows them all. He was especially good friends with Bobby Kennedy.

Mr. Evers is a remarkable person. An independent man his whole life, he has started businesses, brought up an amazing family, and has remained an activist. 89 years of age, and he is as strong as ever. What was probably the best thing about Mr Evers was the faith he still had in this country. He believes in America. He believes in what makes it great. It’s very easy to look at how things are going, to get caught up in the media, and to become jaded. Mr Evers has seen oppression, he knows a world where he had to walk on the other side of the road simply because of his skin color. But still, he remains positive. He never gives up. It’s a testament to the human spirit.  Mr Evers is a brilliant man, a revolutionary, and despite all the hardship, he has never given up hope. If only we could all be like him.