The Van Wezel Gets into Good Trouble

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY SEP 25, 2020

“I feel lucky and blessed to be in the US Congress, but there are forces trying to take us back to another time, another dark period,” says the late Congressman John Lewis in the recently released documentary about his life, “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” Filmed shortly before his death in July from cancer, his quiet strength still shines through despite his diminutive figure. The opening shot serves as a perfect portrait of the man who for 50 years worked tirelessly alongside staggering figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—his demure disposition and immense kindness belying the steel of his resolve, the force of his words coming from the warmth of his delivery and not their volume, optimism ever underlying stark observations.

For The Van Wezel, one of over 60 arts and cultural organizations around the country that joined in a national watch party for the documentary, it was an opportunity to meet the moment. The film comes at a time when the country is reckoning once again with issues for which Lewis himself fought—he took a police baton to the head after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, he was arrested 45 times while protesting, he directed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a keynote speaker at the March on Washington where Dr. King made his famous speech. “I think we can all learn something from these great figures, and I think it’s important to facilitate dialogue and let people come up with their own views,” says Stephen Baker, Director of Marketing and Audience Engagement for The Van Wezel.

The film also provided The Van Wezel the opportunity to meet another facet of the moment. “Our main goal is to provide live experiences,” says Baker, “but we have to be flexible and nimble right now because of COVID.” Included in the stream was access to a September 21st panel discussion with the filmmaker herself as well as Harvard professor Kalil Gibran Muhammad, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch and Mayor Raz Baraka of Newark, NJ. The curated discussion explored the film’s themes as well as each panelist’s relationship with the legendary Civil Rights figure. Those signed into the Zoom stream were able to ask questions and get answers directly from the panelists.

One viewer asked about the sizable art collection in Lewis’s home depicted in the film. “That was one of the brilliant surprises of the film,” says Porter in the panel discussion, “that his art meant so much to him and seemed to prepare him to go out and do what he did.” Lewis refers to his paintings (many Jacob Lawrence originals among them) in the film as his friends. “I found it fascinating he was so inspired by his art,” echoes Baker, “but art does great things in communicating the times and can be a great source of rejuvenation.”

Van Wezel, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 941-263-6799. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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