It was one of those moments you know you won’t forget. (BIFF is full of them.) I was hobnobbing with filmmakers at an elegant Cuthbert House soiree, “feeling my oats,” as they say. Had just spent some time chatting with Mike Tollin, director of “Radio,” in town for the film’s 10th anniversary screening – and to receive his Jean Ribaut Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. Tollin was charming and urbane, like most everyone else in the place. Suddenly, two men entered the hallway where I now stood talking with festival organizer Rebecca Tucker. One, an older gentleman wearing a hooded sweatshirt; the other, a black man dressed in similar attire, with the letters HH on his chest. “That’s Coach Jones and Radio!” Rebecca told me, excited. “We weren’t sure they were coming.” Harold Jones, retired Hanna High football coach, was polite and friendly, if a little out of his element, but “Radio” (James Robert Kennedy) seemed hesitant and disoriented. Maybe not so glad to be there? “Go get Mike Tollin,” Rebecca told me, and I reticently complied.
“Coach Jones and James are here,” I told this man I’d just met. I had no idea how he felt about this ten-year reunion we’d concocted for our festival. Though he'd told us he considers "Radio" a highlight of his career, ten years had passed and maybe this would be... uncomfortable? I watched anxiously as Tollin walked toward the new arrivals, who definitely stood out from the other revelers. I was nervous for everyone involved. What if they felt awkward?
(That's just what I do. I worry about people feeling awkward. It's a habit I picked up from my southern mother, along with the deep, abiding conviction that it's MY job to alleviate their discomfort with peppy chatter. I stood ready to swoop in to the rescue.)
Back to our unfolding drama: I watched as Radio’s sullen, frightened eyes fell on Mike Tollin’s face… and simply transformed. They “lit up” – how else to say it? – and Radio almost ran to Tollin, wrapping him in a bear hug. And Tollin, the big-time director from Hollywood, looked every bit as happy about this reunion as James Robert Kennedy (aka “Radio”) from Anderson, SC. When the two men finally pulled away from their embrace, I heard Radio ask, “Do you remember me?”
Cancel the peppy chatter. I could hardly speak. Can this festival possibly get any more beautiful? We shall see!
- Margaret Evans