Chris & Emily Reach White write and produce carefully crafted films, a fitting outgrowth of Greenville’s craft scene within the work of storytelling.
What I love about Chris & Em’s films is that they offer us such richly nuanced visions of the world. A moment can hold a world – and often when these two are involved, it’s true. (Check out their latest feature Cinema Purgatorio, a funny and warm look at the independent film world.)
Chris’s latest project is a set of five short films released April 3 as Unbecoming. Through these five tales, we stare at a kaleidoscopic view of loss, through a lens sharply ground to precision by Southern Gothic humor and insight.
I adore short stories. To me, they represent a nearly perfect genre: concise and measured yet high-impact. The best writers are brief to the point of almost miserly with their details. Unlike novels, short stories don’t require 20 pounds of details to drive home their point. A gesture, a glint of light, a glance: we learn everything we are intended to know only through careful observation of the tiniest details.
And Unbecoming delivers those carefully curated details to us as the stories move us through moments in the lives of these otherwise-unrelated characters. We all understand that gut-punch of a breakup; we’ve all wondered if this fight is the one that will end it all; we’ve all got a skeleton or two in our career closets; we’re all trying to run from the final unbecoming, the day when our worldly journey stops with a period instead of hinging on a hopeful semicolon. At times, we are all “unbecoming” – ill-fitted to the moment where we find ourselves. Eventually, we are each “undone.”
Short films, like short stories, demand more of their audience. Chris White doesn’t let us off the hook easy. It’s like being offered a steak dinner in a world saturated by corn-syrup media: welcome, filling, satisfying.
Tied together by look, feel, solid acting, snappy dialogue, story themes, and Carolina locations, the five shorts that form Unbecoming work together to leave an impression far weightier than the 40-minute runtime might suggest. As an honest Southern storyteller, Chris White gives us both wisdom and folly, laughter and regret — and then sends us out to chew on the details for far longer than we spent watching him spin the tales.
Unbecoming premieres in Tryon, NC on April 3, 2016. Visit ChrisWhiteHQ for more information about where to see the film during the coming weeks.
Had the privilege of watching two great acts in the folk music scene on Wednesday night (March 5) at The Handlebar in Greenville.
First, I must note the unusual demographics: Other than classical music concerts, which seem to draw none but retirees these days, my concert experiences usually put me in contact with people in their 20s and 30s. But this show was at least 50% Boomers and older –and I was really surprised.
(Side note: When the retirement crowd forms a major part of your show audience, expect to see a LOT of people going back and forth to the bathroom. That’s what I learned. Less drinking, more peeing. lol)
Grace & Tony, a husband & wife team, bring quirky humor into their guitar and mandolin music which they call “punkgrass.” They sing about everything from lost love to pretending to be superheroes, and they do so with a lot of personality & character & fun.
I usually don’t expect to run into Katy Perry tunes at a concert like this, but Grace & Tony covered “Extraterrestrial” and they were all the way into the first chorus before I could name why my brain was recognizing the tune but I was completely confused about this song. ha! A cover! A punkgrass cover of Katy Perry. It was great. I’ll take all the punk grass covers they want to provide of radio hits.
Try “November” to get a feel for Grace & Tony’s tunes.
I must also add that one of the coolest things EVER happened to us at this show. At one point, Grace mentioned that the most adorable 8 year old had gone to their show at the Kennedy Center in DC, and written them a review. Well, we happen to know that 8 year old quite well. 🙂 She proclaims Grace & Tony to be her favorite band, and I can see why. (This kid is gonna grow up with killer music taste.)
I was pulling out my iPhone to record anything that happened next (in case it was connected to Infinity) when Tony said, “Are the Rameys in the house? Infinity wants us to give you a shout out!”
So … uh….. that was cool!
The Handlebar crowd was happy to enjoy Grace & Tony, and I think they picked up some fans that night. But truly this was a Carolina Chocolate Drops crowd – the roar was apparent when the foursome took the stage.
The CCD are an old-time string band from North Carolina. They play American roots music — old tunes from the hills, from folk music, from the fabric of American life in the 1800s and early 1900s. Picture amazing fiddling, fantastic rhythms, legit banjo or guitar, a meld of bluegrass and blues and Irish, all grounded by the rich tones of a cello being played like an upright bass. And the lead singer’s voice is a knockout! (So is she. Rhiannon is one pretty lady.)
I love this kind of music because you learn so much when listening at a show. Usually the players will give you the name of the tune they’re about to play and the mentor who taught it to them, or the player whose version is the most famous. I love that this music is passed down person to person – you can’t just pick up American roots music from a book or formal music lessons. You go to where the masters live and work, and you play with them until the tune is part of you. Then you make it your own, and the music carries on.
The CCD are passionate about bringing this musical heritage back to Americans — it serves as the foundation for our pop & rock music, but many of us don’t know the tunes or stories, and we don’t come together as a community around live music and dancing like we used to. (Our loss.) Plus, much of the old American music is rooted in African music – slaves were stripped of their culture, but they didn’t lose everything. And their fellow Americans were happy to borrow great musical ideas, even instruments (like the banjo) from African music and incorporate it into American folk music. Rhiannon and her band are working to bring those stories back to mind.
As for the show — well, it was just fantastic. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are some of the finest musicians I’ve ever seen in person. Rhiannon can light up a room with her voice — she can be sultry or soulful or playful or on fire, in turn. Hubby, who plays many instruments, took an occasional solo to play country blues, a rough and tumble guitar-based blues that crackles with energy. And the whole foursome puts everything out when performing – drawing the crowd into the dance of the strings.
The CCDs played for nearly 90 minutes before wrapping up their set. But this Carolina crowd wasn’t going to let them go so easily. The deafening roar demanded two encores from the musicians. And if you ever get to see the Chocolate Drops live, you’ll be hooked too.
Our friends Chris & Emily make independent movies. Really good, really awesome, really thoughtful movies that usually make me cry. So when they decided to make a movie about independent movie makers, I was pretty excited.
Chris wrote a great post recently about how this film, Cinema Purgatorio, grows out of their experiences. Sorta.
I appreciate their perspective on the indie-film culture that can chew up so many artists who are pursuing the good in their art and storytelling. We, the audience, love to consume. We want cheap media, tons of Netflix content, free music downloads, and inexpensive theater tickets.
But there can be problems with that (if I may let Chris wax serious fora moment):
We think film festival culture is self-perpetuating, built to advance the festival over the filmmaker…not unlike many US arts organizations that consume artists rather than nurture them, support them, and promote them.
I promise Cinema Purgatorio won’t be a heavy film. I can promise that without having seen it, because 1) I was in one scene (whee! tiny role! extras rock!) and 2) because I know Chris and Em, and I know how witty and lovely they are when telling stories.
Everyone from the New York Times to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in addition to local news outlets, have picked up the story of Bob Jones University dropping the G.R.A.C.E. investigation into how the University responds to claims of abuse.
[Update 2/15/14: BJU announced a meeting with GRACE next week to decide whether they will restart the investigation.]
In short: Alumni have realized, now that the Internet allows people to compare their stories, that they aren’t alone, that most of the counseling offered to students when they were at BJU has been extremely poor when dealing with victims of sexual abuse.
Many of these cases involve students who brought tales of past abuse to the dorm staff, only to have their stories doubted, blamed on their own actions (what a girl was wearing, for example), chalked up to bitterness and a lack of forgiveness, and swept aside by the excuse, “We don’t want to dishonor the body of Christ by bringing an accusation against your [pastor / youth leader / parent / teacher]. Your responsibility before God is to forgive your abuser and move on, not to report this to the police.”
I wish I were making this up, but I’ve been reading these stories from alumni for almost a decade now. A vibrant discussion form for BJU alumni used to exist on Facebook (before their new Groups pages killed the forum option) where many “survivors” met one another online and shared these stories for the first time. I wish I could say, this is not as bad as it sounds… but actually, it’s worse.
Mandatory reporting laws have regularly been ignored, and an institutional culture of handling everything internally, and blaming girls for unwanted sexual attention, continues well into recent years. Fifteen years after college, I’m still “processing” my thoughts on life in the girls’ dorm and my work as a hall leader. I saw a rough underbelly of abusive practice that I didn’t have the experience or maturity or even education to recognize at the time, but the patterns are clear to me now. Maybe sometime I’ll unpack that whole box of memories, but I’ll move on for now.
(The whole question of eschewing psychological research as Satanic in favor of practicing nouthetic counseling is its own huge topic. Others have taken up the discussion; if you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a post from The Wartburg Watch that I can corroborate – everything he mentions, I heard in counseling class at BJU.)
Returning to the current BJU/GRACE controversy – The conversation is muddy. “Camps” emerge rapidly and their arguments are stereotyped by opposing sides, making straw man interaction all the more tempting. Extremism begins to drown out the conversation on both sides, preventing people in the middle from taking the whole discussion seriously.
It’s easy for the critics of BJU to condemn everyone there as depraved and abusive and bigoted legalists, yet this monolithic condemnation doesn’t match the experience of many of us who honestly value the good that came out of our Bob Jones years. (Probably need to write a post on that too.) Or to borrow the Kuyperian perspective, the antithesis runs through and not around any human institution, including Bob Jones University. There are good people and bad. The battle for sanctification in this life produces awkward mixtures of failure and grace.
Likewise, the defenders of BJU should be faulted for ignoring mounting and overwhelming evidence that we cannot simply let BJU sort this out in their own time, or blame GRACE as if the investigator is the problem. (It isn’t.) Whether the critics are “bitter” toward BJU or not is irrelevant. Abuse has been tolerated, covered up, and mishandled by the administration for decades. The University has a deep racist history – even if you disagree that a particular action was motivated by racism, you can’t overlook the whole arc.
The middle has dropped out of the conversation about BJU and abuse.
When the discussion allows you to be a member only of the extremes, I think you get two things: 1) To an extent, clarity of the opposing viewpoints; but also 2) fog of war, which prevents us from seeing underlying causes as clearly as we might.
The question of abuse – how to define it, how to recognize it, how to ensure that victims and those accused of inflicting abuse are both given a fair hearing – has exploded into popular consciousness. Whether it’s the nightmare of priestly abuse in the Catholic church (helloooo….. maybe celibacy could go?) or Protestant preachers caught doing the dirty with a kid in the youth group, everyone seems to know now that powerful Christians sometimes use that power to abuse the people under their care. It’s shameful, and it needs to stop.
The culture of protecting the accused lies at the heart of the problem, but I’d like to point a finger at one underlying theological error that drives this behavior:
Defining government as “that which is evil.”
Conservative political theory has been wedded to Evangelical theology pretty tightly in the past 30 years or so, at least in my Evangelical circles. I think desegregation and the fight for racial equality galvanized some sectors of Christianity (not just in the South) to link their personal, cultural perspectives on American issues to their theological perspectives. Fundamentalism certainly shifted into a hardline separatism during the 1960s and 70s as the wider culture looked less and less like Mayberry, a mythical vision of America that looked enough like the way Americans tend to define “Christian living” to fool everyone into thinking they were the same thing.
Throw in the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, the Nixon tapes, the stagflation of the 70s, the decline of American manufacturing, Clinton’s inability to keep his fly zipped, and W’s foolish Iraq war — it’s not like our government has had a great track record over my lifetime for sure. Oh, and now the NSA spying scandal, the use of drones to kill terrorists without any kind of legal trial, Guantanamo Bay, and a completely inept Congress, and I’d say I’ve dug myself a pretty deep hole for trying to argue that government isn’t evil.
Looks like this needs to be a separate post. Stay tuned.
If you’re willing to walk just a little further with me on the idea, here is the point I want to make:
Because it’s cool now in conservative circles to bash government, churches / Christian organizations believe with all their hearts that the government isn’t good enough to do its job.
I’d argue that “it’s job” is to bear the sword (Rom 13) to ensure justice against evildoers. I also think the Old Testament firmly defines a righteous king as one who cares for the poor, defends the oppressed and weak, and defends justice, especially for those who do not have a voice.
We can argue about all other kinds of things the government seems to want to do (Obamacare, taxing, etc) but let me focus in on one major idea:
The institution God created to dispense justice is the State. That doesn’t mean other institutions (families, churches, schools, businesses) get to be unjust. It means that the state is given the responsibility to make sure injustice gets smashed.
When the Church absorbs the responsibility for determining justice and wrong-doing into its own mission, we get certain problems. Churches who stop trusting the government to do its job take justice into their own hands. So when a kid accuses her youth leader or parent of sexual abuse, pastors feel like it’s ok for them to “make the call” whether this is a “real” case of abuse.
I get it. I do. As a teacher, I lived in a world where word-against-word accusations could end someone’s career, often unfairly. Make a teenager unhappy and you find yourself facing a series of lies about your actions, your character, your motives It was a real risk and my only defenses were common sense and a lot of prayer for protection from El-Roi, the God Who Sees.
I’m not pretending that our state agencies get things right. You can pile up examples of child protective services bringing cases against parents because, for instance, mom swatted the toddler on his butt during a grocery store tantrum.
I get it.
But God didn’t establish the spheres of human institutions on a whim, and I don’t think you can succeed in arguing that American government is so broken that we have no hope of justice. Church courts do not supersede legal rulings. The DSS workers I know in South Carolina work very hard to protect children from horrific abuse. They don’t relish pulling children into the state’s hands. They see first-hand how much damage it does to a child…. but abuse is a serious charge and must be investigated seriously.
This is why pastors and teachers (and others) are required to obey mandatory reporting laws. Biblically, all of us are responsible to see that the weak and voiceless are not smashed by the strong, and we are bound to obey the government we live under unless it violates biblical mandate.
The real problem with trying to handle abuse accusations in-house is that neither the victim nor the accused will actually get justice. (I realize that the legal system sucks at sorting out these cases too — Dylan Farrow’s renewed accusations of sexual abuse by Woody Allen make this point well). [Excellent post on this point: Why Young Sexual Assault Victims Tell Incoherent Stories – Atlantic Mobile.]
But the Church cannot marshall the resources of the institution given the biblical mandate to uphold justice — the forensics, the investigators, the laws of evidence and testimony established within our legal system to look at questions of abuse and bring things into the light. Further, the Church can never impose the level of penalty that justice requires for a wrongdoer. God forgives and Grace heals, but sin carries penalty.
Alumni were happy because the G.R.A.C.E. investigation was going to bring light to the dark corners of BJU policy and administrative action. Realistically, that could result in civil and criminal charges. But when sin has been committed, if you’re going to argue that you follow a biblical theology, you can’t step back from the civil consequences of immoral actions.
We Protestants have no business smirking when another priest abuse scandal hits the TV news. Our own churches are awash in buried accusations of sexual impropriety, domestic violence, emotional abuse, educational neglect, and other crimes.
The PCA [Presbyterian Church in America], the denomination to which my church belongs, refused last summer to take up a resolution urging churches to implement wise policies within child care programs and church events to reduce the chances of abuse.
Let’s get back to the basics. Government isn’t evil; people are evil. God instituted the State to protect people from one another, to ensure justice, to penalize evil. Christians and people in the church can be evil. Outside eyes are good. Accountability is good. Following the law, even if you don’t like it, is biblical. Hurting children is bad. Withholding justice from both victims and those accused is bad. Trying to keep accusations of abuse “in the family” by handling a matter internally is bad – whether you’re a church or a Christian college.
Everyone wants to live-blog news events….. Well, I was at TEDx yesterday in Greenville. And I really didn’t want to live blog that event. It drains my battery, it distracts the people next to me in the audience, and that makes me feel like a douche. So instead, I plan to dead-blog the TED conference….What? What’s that you say? This sounds like a normal post? Shhhhhh…..
First a few opening comments.
The TED main conference offers an opportunity to spread ideas. TEDx conferences in various cities offer even more opportunities for communities to gather and discuss big ideas. It’s refreshing to hear others talk about their innovations, their creativity, their vision. This experience reminds me that I might have a vision too. And I too have ideas that are worth spreading at least to my personal audience.
The Kroc Center in Greenville is an amazing space. I don’t really understand the relationship between the Kroc Center and the Salvation Army, but I do know it has a lovely auditorium, beautiful architecture, and an amazing pool area and gym that families can enjoy together.
Changing the narrative of disease
My favorite presenter of the day was Emily Reach White. She and I have been friends for a few years now, having met through her husband Chris, who is an actor and filmmaker in Greenville. Emily spoke about her dad’s battle with Lyme disease. It’s an invisible disease, “incommunicable” in the sense that no one seems to want to communicate about it. That silence caused her family much grief. Her dad was told to stop pretending, or to work harder, or trust God more to be healed. He didn’t get the sympathy that a cancer patient or a heart patient might get. And that’s one of the things Emily wants to fix through the film Get Better made by her and Chris last year. We need to fix the narrative that surrounds the invisible diseases in our midst. (Google Paris Mountain Scout to learn more about their films.)
The local TED organizers have a requirement to show a certain percentage of videos from the official Ted channel in order to put the name on their event. I think it’s 40%, and while some people complain about having to show videos at a live event, I love the fact that every local event has a guarantee of at least some quality. The TED videos chosen by the Greenville planners were some of my favorite presentations. Enjoy.
Jane McGonigal, The game that will save your life.
John Hockenberry, We are all designers
Robert Gupta, Between Music and Medicine
Weren’t those great? I thought so too.
A doctor who practices in Westminster, South Carolina, came to talk about “conservation burial.” Billy Campbell wants us to bury our dead in a way more in line with the natural life cycle. I don’t understand why we are so passionate about pumping our dead with embalming chemicals and sealing them into metal boxes placed in the ground. Myself, I think the promise of the Resurrection, what Nathan Wilson calls “planting the dead, “in hopes of a future resurrection – that is worth preserving. Not the bodily form. To dust we all return.
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Targeting cancer with DNA
Another standout presentation came from Michael Bolick, who has pushed forward the development of a genetics/oncology research venture here in Greenville. The idea is to use DNA sequencing of particular cancer patients to help target their chemo drugs in a way that attacks cancer without damaging the body so much. They’ve launched here in the Upstate but hope to link to other medical centers soon.
The afternoon included many performers and entertainers. Those have to be seen to be appreciated: TimTv, Bollywood dancers, Spirit Drummers, and a music therapist Kyshona Armstrong.
One music act just struck me as WEIRD. Jean Calvert —- aka, Peggy Lee impersonator. She has the voice for it, but I don’t ever really want to see a 50-something woman in a sleeveless dress prance around stage pretending to be someone in her 20s. It doesn’t work in a stage play to miss the age mark by 25 years, so swapping in music in place of theater didn’t make it any better. *coughs*
I guess no description of TEDxGVL 2013 can wrap without mentioning the bittersweet talk by Perry Tuttle. A legendary Clemson and NFL player, Perry now gives voice to his cheerful and open Christianity as chaplain of Clemson teams. He’s been told he’ll be blind within 5 years. To know you’re going dark….that’s so hard. He talked about what he wanted to see of his kids before the lights go out–like watching his teen daughter song before a live audience.
And there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere when the TED presenter brought Perry’s family so his daughter could song for her daddy. Incredible to be part of that.
TEDxGVL wasn’t free of snafus, and I can think of ways to improve it. But I’m glad I shared the experience with my local community.
New resolution: to watch a TED talk at least once a week.