Monday, January 12, 2009

A Chat With Some Friendly Columbians

I made contact with a few people at the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, MO by email earlier in the week, and they were gracious enough to invite me over for a chat. At the ticket booth Sunday afternoon were Michael Lefevbre and Amanda Shea, both of whom were willing to talk a bit about Ragtag, Columbia, and Missouri between selling movie tickets to actual customers. While we were talking, a guy with messy hair walked in and asked if I wanted to attend a "Bye Bye Bush" bash. I told him I couldn't since I was from California, and he thought I meant California, Missouri.

Obamathon Man: Hi, are you Amanda?

Amanda Shea: Yeah, and this is Michael.

Michael Lefevbre: Good to meet you. Would you like to see Milk or Slumdog Millionaire?

AS: No, these guys are just here to ask some questions. Hey, I'll be right back, I haven't eaten lunch and I was just about to snag some food. Why don't you guys have a chat while I'm gone?

OM: Sounds good to me.

ML: So you're a reporter?

OM: Actually I'm a blogger. It's like being a reporter except you make less money. So, this is the premiere independent movie theater in Columbia?

ML: We're the only independent movie theater in Columbia.

OM: So that would make you the premiere independent movie theater by default.

ML: I guess so.

OM: Does Ragtag attract students from the University's film Department?

ML: The University of Missouri doesn't really have a film program, although there are classes. Stephens College is also in town, and they offer a degree in film. It's an all girls school up the street. But in general our audiences tend to be people who are just interested in watching movies and maybe having dessert or a drink afterward, not hardcore film buffs.

OM: Driving into town, Columbia looks very historic. Do you like it here?

ML: Yes I do. I like it because there's more to it than just the typical college stuff. It's got a different vibe than many college towns. But UM does put on some good events sometimes.

OM: Tell me a bit about Missouri in general.

ML: Well, it depends where you are. The cities will obviously be different than the rural areas. Missouri is basically a southern state, but there are also holdouts like Columbia that have a completely different feel.

OM: We talked with someone from Kansas City, and she told us that Missouri has strong ties to Thomas Jefferson. Is this true?

ML: Well, sort of. As far as day to day life here, we're not exactly thing about Thomas Jefferson all the time. But, actually, the UM campus a few blocks away has the original tombstone of Jefferson. And our capital city is named after Jefferson as well. Ironically, the people of Jefferson City wouldn't like Jefferson if he was still around.

OM: Pretty conservative town?

ML: Yeah. It wasn't always the capital though. The capital used to be in St. Charles, just west of St. Louis.

OM: Really? When'd they move it over?

ML: Dunno, but I'll look it up here.

OM: Nice to live in an age when cash registers have access to Wikipedia.

ML: Yeah, pretty astounding. Ah, here it is. The capital moved to Jefferson City in 1826. Fun fact.

OM: I'm looking at your calendar here, and it says that ragtag is hosting an inaugural party.

ML: Well, we're a nonprofit organization, so in order to keep our tax status we need to be non-partisan. We are hosting a get together of sorts where we screen the inauguration and the festivities that follow on the big screen of our theaters, but this is purely in the interest of informing the populace in national affairs. Drinks may or may not be served afterward.

OM: What was it like in Columbia on election day?

ML: Even though this theater is non-partisan, the crowd we attract aren't regulated in their political beliefs, and we do attract a generally pro-Obama crowd. For election day, we got cable for the theater just so we could screen the election results. It was pretty festive, and of course when the results were announced the crowd went wild. Hey look! Amanda's back. Why don't you talk with her for a bit? I have some cleaning up to do at the bar.

OM: Do what you gotta do. But first, do you mind if I take a picture of you and your box office? This has to be one of the most unique box offices I've ever seen, by the way.

ML: Yeah, it's actually a model of a Soviet sculpture, "The Rise of the Third Reich". No wait, "The Rise of the Third Estate". The Soviets hated the Third Reich. Nice talking with you. Amanda, would you mind talking over the box office now?

AS: Sure.

OM: Hey there Amanda, how were the sandwiches?

AS: Not too bad.

OM: Unfortunately, I don't have time to see a movie here. But I heard both Milk and Slumdog Millionaire are really good.

AS: Yeah, you should watch them both. We also screened The Times of Harvey Milk a few weeks ago as a double feature with Milk.

OM: I'll have to rent them both, I probably won't have time to see them for a few weeks though. But that brings up an interesting question. We were in California during the lead-up to Prop. 8, and unfortunately our votes couldn't help overturn it. But there was definitely a feeling in California that everyone in the country was watching the results of that proposition. Were people here in Missouri generally opinionated on the issue?

AS: Well I certainly had some strong opinions on Prop. 8, and so did many of the people here. I really was hoping the election would go the other way, since California seems to set the trend on issues like this. I kind of felt helpless since I couldn't vote, but I wrote all kinds of letters to people in California hoping to change their minds.

OM: Yeah, that's how we in California feel during presidential elections, when people in Ohio get to choose who our president will be. I hope that what comes out of this election is tighter restrictions on out-of-state money spent on state-specific elections, it was just horrifying to see our elections shaped by money coming from Utah. But we all have our fingers crossed that the supreme court will rule it as unconstitutional in March.

AS: Yeah, me too. I'm getting updates about it through the Facebook group, but nothing seems to be happening until then.

OM: It just goes to show that there really aren't red or blue states, just red and blue regions. I mean, here we are in a supposedly red state, but as you're telling me, most of the people here in Columbia support gay marriage. On the other hand, California is generally considered a very "blue" state, but if you go to San Bernadino it looks and feels exactly like the South. However, after spending an entire day in Kansas yesterday, I think it's pretty safe to call the whole state red.

AS: Yeah, Kansas is special. Did you stop to see the giant prairie dog?

OM: Nah, but I'll always cherish my memory of driving by.

AS: Well I hate to spoil things for you, but it's not real.

OM: Dammit! I was so hopping it was. Michael was telling me a bit about Columbia. Would you say there's more to it than just the college?

AS: Definitely. What happens is, many people from around the state come here for college and just stay. I went to a few different colleges before coming here, but I like it here.

OM: And you've got a pretty good job here too. Are you associated with the video rental place next door?

AS: Nah, we're just friendly neighbors. But check them out, they've got a great selection, and they're one of the few video rental places to have hand-drawn caricatures of great directors.

OM: Well thanks for taking time out to talk, and enjoy the inauguration party here on the 20th.

AS: You know it.

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