Guest Blogger Allen Mondell directed the documentary A Fair to Remember with his wife, Cynthia Salzman Mondell. Allen is currently touring the film in Lithuania as part of the American Documentary Showcase sponsored by the State Department. He will be blogging for Art&Seek about his experiences; here is his sixth report from the road:
The Fair started this past weekend without my attendance, but I consider myself its goodwill ambassador here in Lithuania. I don’t think, however, that flights from Vilnius to Dallas will be overcrowded during the next three weeks, even though I’ve convinced hundreds that the Great State Fair of Texas is superior to World Cup Soccer, Big Ben and wienerschnitzel. I did try to encourage the American Embassy to charter a plane and bring the converts to Fair Park. They diplomatically (pun intended) explained that while they thought it was a splendid idea, budgetary restraints precluded any such gesture.
Today’s screening at Vilnius University to students of North American Studies, philosophy, history and philology, was delightful. They were bright, enthusiastic and curious about this slice of Americana. I should add that one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much was that they had a handout that had Big Tex’s picture in one corner and a photograph of Cynthia and me in the other. A second page held a list of questions for them to consider. It’s a good thing they didn’t ask any of these, since I didn’t have the answers (Just kidding, I did). Here’s one: How does the image of Texans presented in this film match or differ with your perception of Texas?
“Where were all the cowboys?” seems to be the only significant stereotype mentioned. They knew Dallas because of the TV series, and they were aware of the assassination of President Kennedy. I think they genuinely liked the Fair. Aside from some arts and crafts fairs, they’ve never seen anything like the State Fair. One young woman saw the Fair as a symbol of not just one city but many connections to a country’s past: the KKK, Native Americans and Civil Rights. I found that very insightful. And once again, they wanted to know why they didn’t hear from any young people, although they did acknowledge that they saw them in the film but did not hear from them. They also wanted to know who was our audience in America.
And they wanted to know why the Fair continued. An unusual question, I thought, but if you don’t have anything like it in your own culture, it made sense. I repeated what was stated in the film about the importance of the traditions handed down from generation to generation. And in the grand tradition of the American experience, I went shopping before I leave tomorrow for Dallas and the Great State Fair of Texas.