Organized by Nadine Szablya.
From the diary of Columbia River High School student Nadine Szablya, as she tries to organize a Big Miss Moviola screening at her school. Afterword by Miranda July.
Detention With Big Miss Moviola
So, Miranda has asked me to keep a diary of how I put together a Big Miss Moviola screening at my high school. I did this as part of my senior project, which gave me some complications which you might not have. Hopefully, reading this will inspire you to say- hey I can do that, or will I guess give you a guide on how to do this in your high school.
First of all, you should know that setting up a screening at a high school is probably one of the more difficult places to set one up. You’ve got to be prepared for talking your way around a lot of red tape and probably doing a little bargaining too. So, with that in mind, here’s my day-by-day of how it went.
April 29, 1997
Today I talked to Mr. Hoover the Assistant Principal at my high school. Now keep in mind that I already have the support and approval of Mr. McCallister, Ms. Miles, Mrs. Lovejoy, and Mr. Lorentzenp- some of the most well-respected teachers at Columbia River. I have already talked extensively with all of them, and they all know the nature of the films.
So I go in to talk to Mr. Hoover and within ten minutes have hit a brick wall. I didn’t even push the more controversial films dealing with gay/lesbian type topics or specific issues like women’s breasts. I told him we’d be looking at things like the Cleansing Machine, which is about homelessness- or films like the Real Real World which is made by younger people and may interest a younger audience. Not only did he blush and tell me that the nature of these films is inappropriate, but he tried to tell me how he’s a liberal who has to take a conservative viewpoint “as an extension of the parents of Columbia River.” The only good news is that Mr. Hoover gave me his permission to go over his head to Mrs. Friaf- the principal. She is a lot more supportive of things like this so I’m hoping for her approval.
Tomorrow I’m picking up a list of the films we would show, plus descriptions from Miranda so that I can take them to Mrs. Friaf on Thursday. Also, I think I’ll go over what I’ll say with Miranda when I see her.
It’s really frustrating to have to go through so much bullshit when I’ve talked with both students and teachers and the interest is there.
May 5, 1997
Tonight Miranda and I made a list of film titles and descriptions that we want to show at the BigMM screening. Tomorrow I’m going to talk to more teachers and try to get approval from Mrs. Friaf. The date for the screening in question is May 15th, which is next Thursday. We’re hoping to do it at 2:30. I really hope it works out. I’m planning on plastering the school with posters and flyers and getting it on the announcements.
May 8, 1997
I got in to see Mrs. Friaf and she approved the screening! Thank god, I was worried it would never work. So then I made the flyers and hung around the school all day to present to different classes- the classes interested were English, Creative Writing, Film Studies and VideoTech.
Today I went to talk to classes and get people interested in BMM. I got the weirdest reactions. Not at all what I expected. One girl just sat there and glared at me the whole time I was talking. I hope I can get enough interest.
May 13, 1997
Today I went to school to get a projector and a screen. They also have a television and VCR- in case we need it. I don’t know if I wrote this already, but Mr. Reeves the librarian gave me permission to use the library as long as we have a teacher or authority figure to supervise. I’ve also got to get someone to preview the movies we are showing. God- if we can pull this off at River, it will fly anywhere.
Tomorrow’s the big day. I talked to Miranda tonight, Julia will come with her. I have to pick them up at 1:15. (Note to whoever reads this: don’t forget that you have to transport all the stuff!) The video was never previewed so I hope no one kills us.
May 15, 1997
Everything was so great. We got cereal for people to eat (definitely a plus- made the screening very cool). Mr. McCallister was our authority figure on site, but he left, so we didn’t have to worry about not screening the films. Only girls came, which seemed really strange-even though it’s geared towards that. I think it would have been more effective at a high school level if Miranda concentrated on the films and filmmaking rather than on the feminist perspective. Even though that is a totally important and cool part of the presentation. It made for an awkward atmosphere, mostly because it was at a school- not really a safe atmosphere to tell people what no one ever told you. In all it was a definite success- many thanks to Miranda.
Afterword by Miranda July
Nadine is a senior at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington. As part of her requirement to graduate she had to participate in “Chieftain Quest”, a mentoring program. (The school mascot is the “chieftain head”.) To fill you in a little on Vancouver, WA: Nadine says most kids hang out at the river or FredMeyer–the grocery store. There are more pawn shops in downtown Vancouver than places to eat. As we were setting up in the CR High library my friend pointed out that there were no modern books on the shelves, that is: books bought after 1985. In summary: it’s a depressed place that never really recovered from the loss of its timber industry in the 1970’s.
Like most artists/curators, I usually perform and present at schools and venues that either pay me, or just reallly want me to come, despite lack of funds. The Columbia River administration not only couldn’t pay me, but really could have cared less about “a guest artist”. Setting up the screening was a political action on Nadine’s part. The library where I presented the screening was eerily empty except for the 12 teenage girls who opted to stay after school. The movies were not overtly censored, but the complete lack of teacher/administrator attendance, or even supervision, was somehow far worse. We could have written fuck on the walls. We could’ve done anything. But whatever we did, wouldn’t matter. Because Nobody Cared. It wasn’t artistic freedom. It was Being Ignored. And remember: Nadine was fulfilling the requirements of her senior project. Her Chieftain Quest.
Part of the screening was interactive, as I invited the small audience to individually speak to the camera in the Yearbook Committee Room. These tiny movies made alone are the only evidence that Big Miss Moviola ever came to Columbia River High. Many of the girls are in class right now. But since Nadine said that most of the girls weren’t friends with each other, they aren’t probably sitting together. People repeatedly ask me how I thought of Big Miss Moviola. It feels wrong to say that I thought of it at all. Big Miss Moviola was there all along, throughout the endless days of junior high and high school. It was the shape created by the collective boredom and silence of all the girls in my 8th grade math class. Big Miss Moviola is not only incredible lady-made movies. It is also a arrow pointed at the missing movies. The non-existent art programs in schools. The dysfunctional outdated educational system. I am propelled by equal parts of sadness and exhilaration. I hope that doesn’t = desperation.
“Nobody Ever Told Me,” Columbia River High School, Washington, 1997
Archivist’s Note: “Nobody Ever Told Me”; 1 minute videos July invited the audience to make at screenings, finishing the sentence with a piece of self-taught knowledge. This was the only one ever made a public high school. The third participant is Julia Bryan-Wilson, July’s friend and collaborator on J4J for a short time.