While dining at the local pizzeria last weekend, I noticed that Exit Through The Gift Shop was going to be playing at my local movie theater. I later learned that it would be screened as part of a monthly Art House Cinema event, in where the local cinema shows foreign films (usually dubbed in Russian) and holds a discussion about the context of the film after the showing. Tonight was the January Art House Cinema film, so I took my pal Igor along to check it out.
Attendance was sparse, which I find hard to understand, given the table full of champagne, wine and cheese. Before the flick started each person was given two slips of paper. One read, “I liked the film.” The other, “I did not like the film.” On the back sides were numbers. Mine, for example, was number 14.
After a short introduction from the host, a glass of red champagne and a triangle of cheese on toothpick, we settled in for the flick. Surprisingly, I understood more than I’d hoped. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I’d seen the film already. But I like to think it was because my Russian language skills are improving. Either way, the experience was enjoyable. A couple times during the film I even found myself translating for Igor.
Afterward, each attendee dropped one of their cards into a jar. I put in my “I liked the film” card. Once everyone had dropped their card in, a drawing was held. The host read the chosen card. ”Number 14,” she said.
“That’s you!” Igor said, his finger pointed at me.
“Someone?” The host said.
Igor pushed me forward. “Me,” I said. “I have number 14.”
And so, in front of a crowd of non-English-speaking Ukrainians, I walked up front to accept my prize. But that wasn’t it. Once there, the host began asking questions. Who was I, what did I think of the film, yada, yada, yada and more in Russian that I didn’t understand.
“I liked the film,” I said. “But I’m sorry. It’s difficult for me to explain why I like it in Russian. I’m American, and I speak Russian poorly.”
But my attempt at being coy was met with extreme exuberance, something I should have expected.
“American!” the host said. “So, you came all the way from America to see this film here tonight?”
“No,” I said. “I live and work here in Artemovsk.”
“We know!” the host said. “You are Chris, yes? You work at the Krasne Village School? And where in America are you from?”
I said, “I’m from Portland, Oregon.”
The host said, “And tell us what you think about the film.”
With Igor translating, I went on to explain the unique role alternative art plays in America and Western Europe, that it’s not for everyone, of course, but some people really connect with it. I elaborated on some of the Banksy pieces shown in the film, explaining how one could view them as social commentary. This raised some eyebrows. Luckily, it didn’t prompt any questions from the audience. I wanted to step out of the spotlight as quickly as I could.
“Thank you, Chris, for joining us tonight,” the host said. “Are you ready for your prize? We are giving you a gift certificate worth 70 griven to use at City Pizzeria. We hope you come back for the next Art House Cinema. Everyone, congratulate Chris!”
A moment later, as people began filing out, I was stopped by a young man inquiring about private English lessons. Then a woman from the local paper approached me for an interview. I didn’t mention this earlier, and perhaps I should have, but this whole time I’d had a bladder full of beer. Before the film Igor and I killed an hour’s time by drinking in the pizzeria. Now I really had to release the demon, but was forced to chat.
After scheduling a tutoring session and a newspaper interview I finally made it to the toilet.* As I relieved myself in the urinal I couldn’t help but think that this might be the first time I’ve won a raffle or lottery of any sort. If I’m wrong, and I have won before, I certainly couldn’t tell you when that last time was. But anyway, as I stood there, this prideful feeling came over me. I was being recognized for having my number drawn, sure. But these people knew who I was even before that. I was more than a raffle winner; I was a member and valuable asset of the community.
(*Note: Read about and watch my past encounters with the Ukrainian media here, here and here.)