I'm still really emotional. I'm not sure what's going on. I don't know if it's looking at the trauma or fatigue at this point. The slightest thing can start a waterworks show.
I figure I'll just let my body go through what it's going through.
That's what I was thinking as we started the drive up from Delaware to Philadelphia.
My dad and I started chatting right away about haan. The Korean word for suffering. I talked about the American blues being similar and was curious if he thought there was a similar word in Farsi. He went right into empathy.
"This is what humanity needs," he said. "To see each other's perspective."
Then we got into the last time he had been to Philly.
"I have not been here since I brought my sister here," he said. "Ten years ago."
When we pulled up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I was curious if it brought back memories of us going all the time. I think I spent every Sunday for an entire summer visiting because it was free.
"I remember Rocky," my dad said.
"The movie?" I asked. "Why?"
"Because of the message," he said. "You have to be persistent."
That made me laugh. But I thought it'd be good for us to have a Rocky moment in the film.
We went up to the statue and then did the run up the steps and raised our hands.
When we got close to the top, some guy started shouting at me.
"Keep going!" he said. "Don't stop now."
Then he walked over to my dad and patted him on the back.
"See, I like this guy," he said. "He was consistent."
Then, as I was looking out over Center City, Meina, my cousin, came rushing up and bear hugged my dad. She tried to let go, but my dad wouldn't let up.
"I'm not going to let you go," he said.
"Ah!" Meina said. "I can't breathe."
They walked arm in arm all the way down the steps and to my Uncle Farahmand, who was waiting by his car.
Then, it was another hug fest.
"You want to get in on this?" my Uncle Farahmand laughed.
"I'm okay," I said.
The screening for CTRL ALT DEL was still seven hours from then, so we figured we'd get some lunch. We found this nice Chinese place and had spring rolls. We all love spring rolls.
"We are the kings of spring rolls," I told our waitress.
"I want ginger tea," my dad said.
They didn't have any, but he had some green tea and looked happy.
Once we went to a second place and had coffee, we didn't really know what to do. Meina suggested driving my dad back to her place. We tried that, but the traffic was horrendous, so we decided an Uber would be best.
"At least he doesn't have to wait five hours," Meina said.
"We should have done this from the start," I said.
"That's what I'm saying!" Meina shouted.
Since we had all the camera gear and Meina's turntables for the show, we figured we'd stay with the car or try to find a place to park on the street, but there wasn't anything open. So, we just parked illegally and chatted for a good long while. That's when Meina pulled up the latest blog posts and started reading them.
She had to stop during the one about Jesse Jackson.
"Oh, man," she said. "I'm going to fucking cry, dude."
Then, she did.
I was surprised the posts had been effecting people so much. I thought it was just me, but then I remembered what I was dealing with, Meina had lived with too."
"People think that I haven't experienced hardship, but I have. And, you, you just had this thing at the barbershop, and then you meet Jesse Jackson, I mean--"
She cried for a good bit. Both of us tearing up about what we both knew had been so difficult in our lives.
"People, don't know," she said. "You can't explain it."
"Well," I said. "Maybe this film will help with all that."
After crying a bit more, we parked on 19th and Chestnut near a fast-food Middle Eastern joint and waited for Aaron to get back from meeting his friend from Jersey. We figured the Trocadero would be open by then, and we could load up. That's when these 20 mile an hour winds started up and it got brutally cold.
"I can't wait to be out of this," Meina said, referencing our upcoming road trip to LA. "I'm done with this city."
Aaron and Meina talked about what was wrong with Philly. Then they got on politics.
I messaged Sohee to see what she was up to back home in California.
"I just woke up," she texted.
"Good," I texted back.
Then I started running through what the event might look like. I was a bit worried. I didn't know what to expect at these screenings. Every time we had one in a different city, they'd either be totally sold out and amazing or there would be like 12 people and the projector wouldn't work. And, this time we were filming for the new film and putting on the event. It'd be a big balancing act.
As soon as we got there, we set up the merch table, turntables, checked the blu-ray, and then met all the staff. Keith set me straight on how to park, while Troy just killed all the sound elements.
"No worries," Troy said, after I told him to ride the audio on the third film.
I got stamped and got everything ready for interviews. I figured we'd maybe get one person at least. That's when I was blown away. 77 people showed up for the event. Even one of my students! Dafna Yachin, a director from the area I had met in Amsterdam at the Buddhist Film Festival for Hardcore Zen, told me about her.
"Yeah, one of your students is here, and is raving about how she had to come."
"Really?" I said.
I tried to think if it was a student from LA or NY, but she answered that for me by running up to me.
"I had to come," she said. "As soon as I saw your name and this was happening. You're the one who inspired me about film. Like, I would have never moved from Rochester, if it hadn't been for you. Like, every week, I'd be so excited to learn about mise-en-scene and hear your lectures. My friends would want to watch this film or another, but I learned how cinema is supposed to touch you, and I knew your movie would do that, so I had to come. And, I'm a Latina, and I know my accent is maybe hard for you to understand, but I was so shy to talk to people, but then I went to that Buddhist Temple, and you taught me that acting was just being yourself. And you asked me these questions: 'What inspired me? What did I like?' And, I never talk, because I'm shy, but, after that, I was like, 'I can do this!' And, now I talk to everyone. I don't care who they are. And, you did that! You inspired me so much. I mean, I even still visit the lectures on Google Drive. I don't if that's illegal or whatever, but I do."
"Wow," I said. "I had no idea. That's great."
"So, I wanted to come here and support from Atlantic City. I had to come."
"I'm glad you did."
The event was supposed to start with poetry. I heard them starting, and my former student and I ran into hear them. First, it was Alexandra Naughton, one of the stars of CTRL ALT DEL, and one of my favorite people. Her pieces are instantly real and recognizably her. She had the audience laughing and nodding. And, what's perfect about her performances, is she knows exactly how much to give and then leave you wanting more.
Then, Amy Saul-Zerby performed a great collection of pieces. She read from Paper Flowers Imaginary Birds from Be About It Press, and then her new collection Deep Camouflage. I was instantly in it. She talked about the "roller coaster inside us" and the "malls of America" and I felt myself choking up again. I don't think it was supposed to be sad, but when I feel things that are real, without any artifice, I feel it in my body these days like it's as much a part of me as I am a part of them. I could see her writing it and me with her and all the feelings that each of those lines meant, and I felt so lucky to be hearing it like this and seeing her.
Once she read, the folks seemed ready to see the film, and I think they were a bit surprised that they'd get poetry before a movie. I figured the music might really surprise them too. I couldn't wait though. It was my old bandmate when I was 18 years old, Kevin Tarzanin. He had played in so many bands after ours, Fat Daddy Hasbeen, Diatribe, and now, The Bullbuckers, a seven-piece band, complete with horn section. The Bullbuckers had done four tracks on the soundtrack for CTRL ALT DEL, so I thought it'd be nice to hear the songs before the film. It was also Kevin's first time performing solo on acoustic.
As soon as he started, he locked in and started singing these songs that felt like I'd heard them all my life. That's the magic of Kevin's songwriting, like most people knew he was the most talented musician in the area, had amazing bass chops, and had won all these songwriting competitions, but it's something else about his music: it's timeless. I kind of felt proud for him in that moment, once he announced on stage that this was his first time performing solo, because I knew it made complete sense. He was a person that could perform in a group, or all alone, but people would always be looking at him. I don't know. In that moment, I could see him doing this a lot more, and I thought, 'Maybe, this would be the start of him performing solo all the time.' That got me so happy. I can't explain it.
Then everyone went into the theater for the films. There was MAKE FILM GREAT AGAIN and then CTRL. Only two people walked out during MAKE FILM GREAT. I'm not sure if I offended them. I felt a bit bad for them. If they waited a bit longer, they might have liked it. But, I knew my films took a bit more from audiences. I was also kind of into the film myself. Even though the sound in the theatre was a bit crazy, and I was told it would be because that's what that room did, I enjoyed seeing the film again. I hadn't seen it in a year or so. But the real treat was seeing CTRL. This was the first time I saw this edit. I had edited the film about six months ago, but I had been editing it off and on for about two years. I was never satisfied. When I did that final edit six months ago, I never even watched it back. I just remembered what Mike Figgis was telling me after he watched my ZOMBIE BOUNTY HUNTER M.D., and he wanted me to be more brutal with the edit.
"Take out everything you don't need," he told me.
So, I did.
Afterwards, everyone seemed to dig the piece. Even, my dad came up to me.
"You did such good acting," he said.
I was surprised. I think this was the first time my dad actually saw one of my films all the way through.
"I like this event too," he said. "But next time you need dancers. Dancers from all over the world. Unity of dance. This is my idea," he said.
"It's a good idea," I said.
My cousin Meina spinned for the rest of the night. I talked to a couple folks. Mostly, with Dafna. She's such an incredible director. I had seen her DIGITAL DHARMA in Amsterdam, and it was so good. Now, she had a new film that she was trying to get distribution for called THE GREAT FLIP-OFF a doc about all these American circus riding families. I was excited to see it, and work with her on something together. I knew she was also doing a doc about the boxer Tyrell Biggs. I figured I had to get her and Loren Goodman together, since he was doing a doc series on all his boxing management in Asia.
I told Loren about it via Messenger, when I got back to my Uncle's house.
Then, we filmed a bit more.
Arash, my cousin, wanted to tell a story about how his dad was run over by a neighbor because of racism. He had read the last blog post and felt it was an important story to tell. I was amazed that it happened. Then, my Uncle Farahmand came down and re-told the story in his magical way. He wasn't even upset about what happened. Just telling it like this is what happened. His neighbor thought he ran a stop sign, drove after him, and then called him an "Indian piece of shit!" To which my Uncle said, "Well, you got it wrong. First of all, I'm Iranian..."
Then he told how he got out of his car to confront the guy and set him straight: that he didn't run the stop sign and that he was, in fact, Iranian. That was when the guy, still in his car, reversed and hit my Uncle on purpose and drove away.
I was shocked.
"Then, I knew we had this guy," my Uncle said. "I called Arash and then 9-1-1. They arrested the guy and took statements from the neighbor who saw the whole thing."
This neighbor, another neighbor, who had lived next to my Uncle for 15 years, was willing to run him over, because of his race, and what my uncle described as "fear":
"There was something else there," Uncle Farahmand said. "It was racially motived and fear. Fear of this unknown and this was how he responded."
The story ended with a classic laugh from my Uncle: "Well," he said and smiled. "He paid for his mistake."
"That's the only way you can deal with racism," Aaron said from behind the camera. "Make them pay for it with money."
That was right when Max, this giant Italian Mastiff, came over and sat on my feet. He nuzzled his head against my hands and then started growling.
"What are you doing?" my Uncle Farahmand asked Max. "Are you protecting him?"
Max growled again.
"Wow," I said. "Does he always do this?"
"See," my Uncle said. "He knows."
Max lied down with me as the whole family sat down to watch an episode of Narcos. I made it through ten minutes before I started nodding off.
"How'd it go?" I saw Sohee's text.
"Good," I texted back.
Tomorrow, we head back to Rochester to film my mom again. Hopefully, she's gotten over her jetlag from Iran.