It is unlikely that “Where’s the Fair?” will soon be playing at movie theaters throughout the country, but the full-length documentary by two filmmakers with deep ties to Ohio University Southern in Ironton has been receiving great reviews at film festivals.
Producers Jeffrey Ford and Brad Bear hope recognition will lead to an agreement with a company to promote and distribute the film to a broader audience. As more people see the film, the two producers hope it will spark renewed interest in U.S. participation in world’s fairs
Ford, a Cincinnati director and producer who learned his craft at Ohio University Southern’s excellent electronic media program, traces the film’s beginnings to the most unlikely place: a vintage toy show in Knoxville, Tenn. That was where he found an old Viewmaster and some reels to go with it.
When he slid the reels into the device, Ford found himself looking at three-dimensional views of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Although he’d never attended one, he was captivated by the massive display of the cultural wealth of nations.
Before long, he was planning a trip to Spain to attend Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, and when he learned there would be no U.S. pavilion there, he wondered why. “Why wouldn’t the United States be involved in the biggest peaceful gathering of people on earth to celebrate science, art and culture?” he asked.
Ford found the last American city to host a fair was New Orleans in 1984 and participation in other fairs has been spotty at best. The more he learned about the gradual disengagement of the United States from world’s fair participation, the more he found himself shocked, confused, angered and disappointed.
Ford called Bear, a longtime professional associate and the special projects producer for the OUS electronic media program, and the two started on a journey that would take them to seven countries and three world’s fairs.
Since this summer, the feature-length film has won awards for best documentary at the Knoxville, Cape Fear Independent and West Virginia Filmmakers’ film festivals and been an official selection at festivals in Toronto, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Louisville.
In the film, Ford and Bear document a gradual erosion of American commitment to such grand spectacles as world’s fairs, in part because of the enormous cost but also for geopolitical reasons. With the ending of the Cold War, the U.S. seemingly no longer needed the public relations value of an elaborate world’s fair pavilion and federal legislators were unwilling to underwrite fair expenses.
The two producers found that U.S. disengagement did not go unnoticed internationally and that lackluster U.S. pavilions or outright absence were widely considered snubs to the host countries. Ford and Bear believe the U.S. is squandering opportunities to share core American values along with American technology and culture, but are somewhat heartened because their research revealed individual American cities are still clamoring and posturing themselves to bid for future fairs. That would require the U.S. to rejoin the organizing body Bureau International des Expositions, from which it withdrew membership funding in 2001.
Ford and Bear do not expect “Where’s the Fair?” to make money. Few documentary films do. But they do hope the award will help them break even on the entirely self-funded project. Beyond that, the festival exposure and awards have boosted their standing in the film community.
Documentary producers make films to send a message. Theirs is to revive the dormant U.S. interest in the spectacular showcases of national achievement.
Ford and Bear hope their little film will be aired on a national cable network. That not only would bring in more revenue for the film but it would greatly expand the number of people who actually see it. That, in turn, may convince more people to get behind U.S. involvement in world’s fairs. If so, Bear and Ford will consider their little film a rousing success — even if they do not make any money on it.