Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wit, Will and Walls - the Shenandoah Valley Screenings

It has been an amazing month of gearing up for and screening Wit, Will and Walls; the Betty Kilby Fisher Story in 2 public venues. We were scheduled for three, but a wintery blast of glacial ice across the Shenandoah Valley last week conspired to keep us out of Warren County High School, the historic location where Betty Kilby Fisher was the infant plaintiff to desegregate the county's schools. Look for that screening, with some special guests, to be rescheduled in March or later this spring.

The lead-up to the weekend was the round of press in Winchester and Front Royal with Betty and me. The most intriguing interview was with Dan McDermott of The Valley Today radio show. It was on this show that Betty revealed that she had kept the fact that she had been raped in Warren Couny High School auditorium a secret from her mother until last Wednesday. Her mother's response after 50 years? She simply said quietly "So it's true."

This has been a terrifying experience for Betty to work through, but telling the truth of it when she has been ready has been cathartic for her and healing for others. Dan was a sensitive and insightful interviewer - lots of trust there for Betty to share her story. A link to the interview:

And a link to the companion story in Dan's independent newspaper The Warren County Report (Dan is the hardest working man in media today)

On Saturday night 2/17 we screened at Old Reliance Theater, in Reliance, VA. Shenandoah University Vice President Tracy Fitzsimmons and her husband Dr. Chuck Call live upstairs in this refurbished schoolhouse - and their basement is a theater where ambitious social issue theater productions like The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues have been staged with great success. A few hightlights:

I was proud to screen the SU student piece about Betty's granddaughter, Tanesia. Tanesia portrayed her grandmother in my film. Sibling teams Nick and Kevin Matheson and Hallie and Cody Penwell worked VERY hard to profile Tanesia and her take on her family's legacy with touching results.
During discussion after the screenings, a woman named Phoebe Kilby from Harrisonburg, VA announced that she's done preliminary research and believes that her family was the Kilby slaveholder and Betty's family were the slaves! She felt that by contacting Betty that they together would be able to live out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of the daughters of the slaves and slaveholders sitting down together at the table. Betty's family has already taken to calling her "cousin Phoebe"!
Not at all ironically, but sort of startlingly Phoebe Kilby works with Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding hosts a project called Coming to the Table, which gathers and documents the stories of the descendents of slaves and slaveholders.

An NPR story about the Coming to... project:

On Sunday 2/18 we screened at the wonderful Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Winchester, VA. What an afternoon of discussion and truths. When the discussion was over, all in the church linked arms and sang "We Shall Overcome". Thank you Pastor Gilbert Mack, Linda Jackson and the congregation from Mt. Carmel for welcoming us to your beautiful venue. I look forward to more collaboration... and singing!

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