"There is no way…"
That's what I told my boss. "No way. We aren't ready." He wanted me to submit an entry to the Virginia Film Festival.
Up to this point, I had shot maybe a dozen stories, each 2-3 minutes long, focusing on people and their relationship with plants. Staring at my boss, I'm thinking, "there's no way we'll get in; we're out of our league."
My boss, Art, is the owner of Lancaster Farms and the creative director for PLANTPOP. Ignoring my resistance, he says, "Take one of the stories you're working on and make it good enough. You've got three weeks before the deadline."
I began filming John Wharton a few months back, producing a piece on a volunteer day for Norfolk's "The Plot" in the Arts District and a garden parklet installation. John helped coordinate the parklet build and upon discovering that he has a business built around glass terrariums and succulent plants, we wanted to document his relationship with plants and how it grew into a business. I would visit and film him at his workshop in his backyard and capture footage at his pop-up shops and terrarium building classes that he would teach all over the city, always at interesting locations such as Kitsch, the Birch Bar, and the Chrysler Museum.
Not all documentaries require soul baring, but unless it was our desire to do a commercial for John's business, it required submerging beneath the story of selling glass terrariums and teaching workshops. I'm no therapist, however throughout this process of creating PLANTPOP episodes, I notice threads of growth, transformation, and perseverance that is present in all of the stories. Plants and our relationships with them can be applied for much more beyond the obvious. Beyond being beneficial for the planet and providing nourishment and resources, our relationship with plants can range from the emotion of giving or receiving a flower to creating a business based on plants to overcoming personal struggles or hardships. John's frankness and honesty forge this documentary, his enthusiasm for plants is infectious.
My strategy for John consisted of a sit-down interview and gathering as much b-roll footage as I could in the next two weeks. I would have a week to edit and submit. Time was tight and I furiously worked until the last second, but overall, the workflow and process was not the stress inducing nightmare I imagined it to be. For the soundtrack and score, Sharkophagus, "garage jazz" band based out of Norfolk gave us their permission and blessing to use their tracks. With everything filmed and edited, our entry made its way to the festival. This occurred in late August, with notification scheduled for early October.
The day of the notification deadline fell on a Monday, I woke up earlier than usual and grabbed my phone. The festival submission page loaded as I stretched and yawned, a few seconds pass and I notice a check mark in a green circle under the "judging status", accepted. I didn't believe it at first, exclaiming out loud, "No way, oh no way". My wife thought I was panicking and asked what was happening. I told the doc got accepted in the film festival and be ready for a family road trip to Charlottesville in November! I checked the film festival website and searched for Glass Gardens, I could not find it. Perhaps an error, was the notification incorrect, were we not accepted? I fired off an email to the festival and they promptly replied, stating that we were accepted and they would announce additional films via their website and social media. Later I would find out that we were to be included in a short documentary collection about craft. This needed to be celebrated at home.
David Hausmann is a forward thinking business owner that opened Relative Theory Records in 2004. The record store served as a music lover's dream, it had a cafe, listening stations, a dizzying collection of genres, knowledgeable staff, and they employed their space for musical performances, events, and community meetings. Relative Theory, a place people just wanted to spend all their time in and soak up everything music. Although it served as a hub for "all things cool", the music industry shift, the economy, and other circumstances led to their closing. Yet the spirit of Relative Theory would still live on. David's venture would lead to shaping Norfolk's restaurant industry, opening up a handful of successful and acclaimed restaurants/eateries in addition to aligning himself with like minded people to assist Norfolk's growth. We interviewed David for our documentary, as he admired John's drive and provided a source of encouragement and practical advice. David and John often discussed business ideas, the ever changing landscape of retail, and other strategies in keeping Glass Gardens sustainable.
Acceptance into the Virginia Film Festival is humbling and validating. It made us feel that documenting the relationships of people and plants are worth exploring. I knew doors wouldn't be knocked down by people desiring to lay eyes on the short documentary series about craft, nevertheless, to be part of a festival that included Meg Ryan's directorial debut, Oliver Stone screening and discussing Born of the Fourth of July, legendary film critic Leonard Maltin holding a screening and discussion of The Maltese Falcon with, and a slew of films that I would later recognize as the best of the year, I felt it was necessary to show the doc to our hometown crowd, the people that define our community and support John and his business. There couldn't be a more appropriate place to screen our doc than Toast, David Hausmann's take on tartine fare, savory or sweet open faced sandwiches. Replace vinyl with homemade toast and retain the feeling and vibes of eclectic music, a wonderful space to spend time in, and a diverse cast of characters, it's clear the soul of Relative Theory still carries on. A rainy night welcomed the crowd that came for the screening taking place on the outside patio, however, through diligence and quick thinking, the night turned out to be energetic and affirming. Toast was packed and the crowd asked to screen it again.
Early November arrived swiftly and the family and I were heading up to Charlottesville for another rainy weekend. The rain did nothing to dampen our spirits though, excitement and anxiousness built as our destination got closer. Traversing the brick lined path of Downtown Charlottesville to the registration site, I thought to myself, I'm a realist… I made a 6 minute documentary highlighting a guy's plant business in Norfolk and now am in the company of "Brooklyn", "Carol", "Son of Saul", the Black Panther's documentary, and several films that would grace "best of" lists that came out at the end of the year, I was an any among gods. Imagine my surprise when the registration coordinator asked which film I made and when I told her "Glass Gardens" she shot back without hesitation (and without looking at a schedule), "Oh, you're showing tonight in the short doc collection about craft at PVCC right? That one sounds fun." Seriously? Maybe she memorized every film and their schedule and screening location, regardless I felt welcomed and elated.
Pulling up to the screening location that evening, we descended upon a sizable crowd letting out of "Most Likely to Succeed", heralded as the best documentary ever regarding school. Again, we found ourselves in excellent company. Although the short doc collection didn't enjoy as large an audience, our documentary received a platform that film lovers could engage in and was included with other outstanding craft-themed documentaries. After all the documentaries screened, the filmmakers were invited to the stage for a question and answer session led by the festival's programmer, not just the short doc programmer, THE overall programmer for the entire festival. This would be yet another of the several times I felt humbled and grateful that our film was included in this wonderful experience. During the remainder of the festival, I caught up with close family friends and view their son's involvement with the Young Filmmakers Academy, a screening of short films created by elementary and middle school students. By all accounts, the festival provided an unforgettable and inspirational weekend.
So "yes way"… we actually did it. I'm glad I was able to overcome self doubt and realize that what we're doing at PLANTPOP is impactful and deserves to be shared. Would we still be at it if our entry was rejected? Yes, definitely, but the 2015 Virginia Film Festival put a tremendous amount wind in our sails and we're continuing to harness that momentum to continue documenting the relationship between people and plants.