Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Marshalltown in connection with my attendance at the second annual Jean Seberg International Film Festival. I'm not sure what I expected of a film festival in a very small town in the middle of a very big country. After all, being from Washington, DC, similar experiences for me had always been on a rather large scale. I did know, as I drove through miles and miles of farm fields, that chilly November dusk, that I wanted a thorough and insightful educational experience about the life and film career of Jean Seberg. I was not disappointed.
Pip Gordon, executive director, and her expert staff at the Orpheum Theater Center put together a masterful four-day meeting that was every bit as professional as anything I've attended in Washington, DC (or, for that matter, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia or Chicago). The film program content was very diverse, the symposia were thought-provoking and the photographic and archival material exhibitions fascinating. All of the formats, in fact, provided me, as I had hoped, with new insight into the life and career of Jean Seberg. I am so glad that I took the time to make the trek to Iowa and see, in person, the streets Jean walked and the places she loved, as well as getting the unique opportunity to meet some of the people who were important in her life.
There are not many towns that can claim an international film star among its native sons or daughters. Film stars of her generation typically, and usually very quietly, shed their hometown personas, along with any connections to their ordinary upbringings. Not her she started out as Jean Seberg of Marshalltown, Iowa and stayed that way. And maybe that is part of her attraction for so many even though she became the darling of the French new wave cinema of the 1960s the "nouvelle vague," co-starred with the likes of Deborah Kerr, Warren Beatty, Lee Marvin, Sir John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Joanne Woodward and Clint Eastwood, worked with directors of the caliber of Otto Preminger, Joshua Logan, Jean-Luc Godard, and Mervyn LeRoy, and moved in intellectual circles inhabited by Romain Gary and President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, she always remained true to and in touch with her mid-western roots and those values Iowans are so famous for: determination, hard work, honesty, and an abiding concern for those less-fortunate.
I hope that Marshalltown, especially its young people, will continue to embrace the film legacy of its most famous citizen and, as many around the world do, fully appreciate the artistry of Jean Seberg the actress and the quality of Jean Seberg the woman.