When did I notice the sign? When I reached the glass door of Ragtag Cinema. It said the 6 p.m. showing of We Always Lie to Strangers, a documentary about the normal lives of Branson performers, was sold out.
It was more than an hour til showtime, but I was here to speak to David Wilson, the film’s co-director. Most of you, I’m sure, know who David Wilson is. For those who don’t — does True/False ring a bell? Wilson even co-founded Ragtag, the very theater his documentary — which, by the way, he and his co-director AJ Schnack won the SXSW directing prize for — was about to be shown in. I’d written a making-of story about the film last fall, and Wilson had agreed, on short notice, to give me a few minutes of his time.
With coiffed black hair, he arrived hand-in-hand with his girlfriend. I left my table on the patio and moved inside. I found him hugging Raeanne Presley, one of the major subjects of the film who had driven up from Branson for the Columbia premiere, and her daughter. Presley, the mayor of Branson, and Wilson had kept close, much as he did with the other people in the film. I stood in the corner, waiting for my time. We made eye-contact, and he waved.
I walked up to him, and he suggested we talk someplace where people wouldn’t be coming up and congratulating him. We walked out the front door and found a spot by 9th St. Video, which shares a building with Ragtag. Wilson wore sunglasses with reflecting lenses. I looked at myself holding my iPhone recording him. He faced the sun.
“What’s it feel like,” I began, “to have a documentary you co-made showing at a theater you co-founded?”
A thin smile grew on his lips. Behind the reflective glasses, I imagined him getting a tad starry-eyed.
“It’s … it’s really awesome,” he said. “It’s a really cool feeling, and it feels like, uh …”
He trailed off for a bit. When we’d talked last fall, he’d said he hadn’t felt like much of a filmmaker because of his other responsibilities.
“Both of these things have required sacrifices on the part of the other,” he said. “So my idea as myself as a filmmaker, my film-making career, has been slower, more on hold, because of Ragtag and True/False. Likewise, there’s been times when I’ve turned to film-making and put the other things on hold and … to see them right now and to see them both come together is really amazing and also a moment to think about all the people who in those times have carried the weight.”
We talked about the Branson premiere, the weekend before, and how no showing would ever be as nerve-wracking as the first one, when he and his fellow filmmakers showed it to the people they’d spent four years documenting.
I asked him what the film represented now, more than a year after his SXSW prize.
“Taking a film to festivals is like, the film is done. It feels like, this is finished, wrestling with this. And even then, at the South by Southwest screening I was looking at every scene thinking, oh I could trim that or we could do that. And now, this film is in theaters. It’s about to be on iTunes, and then DVD (on June 3). Now it’s about sharing with people. Now it’s the excitement of being like, You know what? The whole world can now watch this film.”
I ended the interview, and we walked back toward Ragtag’s door.
A woman in pink saw Wilson and said, “Man of the hour.”
“Thanks for coming,” he told her.
I ventured into the theater. Under the screen in Ragtag’s big theater were Bill and Gail Lennon, husband and wife, and Bill’s brother, Dan. The Lennon family members were some of the main subjects of the film. All three were singing, with Gail and Dan strumming on acoustic guitars. The second-to-last song of their roughly 20-minute set was “I’m an Old Cowhand” — I’m sure you know it; it goes “yippee-i-o-ki-ay, yippee-i-o-ki-ay.”
Gail sang the lyric, “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande/And I come to town just to hear the band.” And then she added, talking, “And to see a pretty good movie, too.” That got a good laugh.
When the last chord from the Lennons faded, Tracy Lane, the executive director of Ragtag, introduced Wilson. He told the audience co-director Schnack and producer Nathan Truesdell, who both shared filming responsibilities, should be next to him. He reiterated what he’d told me about his two worlds colliding and how special that was for him. Then, the film began.
Now, I should be clear: the film is great, worthy of the praise no doubt. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say the crowd at Ragtag at 6 p.m. on Friday night seemed predisposed to love every second of it. They laughed at the funny parts (one subject is, as an audience member commented after the film, a “hoot”), gasped at the oh-my-god parts (such as the angry, anti-homosexuality text messages sent to a main person in the film, a gay man) and practically hear-heared at the righteous-liberal parts (Lennon family members are capital-D democrats, and damn proud of it).
There was a Q&A with Wilson, Presley and Dan Lennon after the showing. Bill and Gail had to leave after their set. The trio fielded questions for a little more than 20 minutes. A common theme was how real the film makes Branson. In most people’s imaginations, the town is kitschy, a Las Vegas for your grandma. And you bet Bransonites are aware of it. That’s why the people in the doc were hesitant to have a camera follow them around. Why did they do it, then?
“We realized [the filmmakers] didn’t want to do a story on ‘Hillbilly Disneyland,’” Dan Lennon said at the Q&A. And, you can be sure, they did not.
I want to leave you, dear reader, with a moment that came before the Q&A, though, a moment I think, albeit based on my limited time with him, is representative of Wilson. As the film ended and Wilson took his place under the screen, he received a standing O. He had put on the red, white and blue jacket with tassels Presley had given him. The jackets are staples of the Presley family show in Branson. (You can see a picture of it by clicking on the link to my making-of story from last fall.)
The clapping receded, and the audience sat down. Wilson took the microphone off its stand.
“I knew it was a nice jacket, but ….”
Have you seen We Always Lie to Strangers? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.
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