Sunday night, 9 p.m., the time we had been building toward for nearly six years. As the moment that our film would finally unspool (figuratively speaking, of course, since our fm would be playing from BluRay disc) approached, we greeted the friends and family who had travelled from across town or from hundreds of miles away for the premiere. Duke’s old friends Casey Kelly and Leon Medica, both Nashville residents and both of whom appear in the film, were there. Duke’s son,T.K., and his nephew, Brian, drove up from Alabama. One of our camera operators, Jason Thurman, came up from Atlanta. Duke’s friend Sam Bush, a.k.a., the father of Newgrass, and his lovely wife, Lynn, were there as well.
To that point, all the films we had seen had been in the small venues, theaters that seated roughly 100. For some reason, ours was one of the few docs to screen in the multiplex’s largest theater, seating 320. Our crowd was comparable to those for the film against which we were competing, but in such a large venue … Well, let’s just say we had ample elbow room.
Kris and I stood down front for a few opening remarks, and then it was time for the film. If I dare call our own film a good one, I can say I have never enjoyed watching a good film less. There is nothing more gut-wrenching than to examine our own work on a screen a hundred times larger than any we have seen it on before. I cringed at every slightly misplaced edit, every hint of noise in the image, every shot that I felt could have been better. But the crowd … the crowd was into it.
I don’t know how much credit Kris and I can take for that. If there is any to be taken, it is only for managing to capture and contain the spirit of Duke Bardwell on screen. The power of his music, the charisma and charm of his storytelling shone through.
The film was rolling along nicely. We had passed the midpoint, things were taking a dark turn in Duke’s time with Elvis. Then, just as The King was insulting Duke on stage, everything stopped. It seems our old friends, the Threshold Guardians, had taken up residence in the BluRay player. With every second that the image held there, silently, on the screen, a fear welled up in me, Kris, my wife and I’m sure many others that the film might not resume. So this was our grand and glorious world premiere …
Someone – I’m not sure who – knocked on the window of the projection booth. In short order, the film resumed.
For the rest of the film, I enjoyed myself even less than before. Every so often, there would be another glitch or hang-up. Though we heard later from many in the screening that the glitches didn’t pull them completely out of the film, that was our fear. At last, the film ended, everyone applauded, and Kris and I took the figurative stage – joined by Casey Kelly, Leon Medica and T.K. Bardwell – for a little Q&A.
That was when the most satisfying surprise of the evening came: the audience got it. All the directorial and editorial decisions, the choices large and small, that Kris and I had made resonated with our audience. It seemed they were willing to forgive the technical glitches and the handful of issues with image quality in exchange for a great story well told. Though we had always hoped that was what we were creating, we couldn’t be sure until it had been seen by more than just the two of us.
The effusive praise of our audience did something we hadn’t been able to do for quite some time: beat back those Threshold Guardians.