When it came down to it, there really wasn’t much of a decision involved.
Instead, according to Benjamin Wagner, it was more of a calling. The real-life summertime neighbor to television icon Mister Rogers, Wagner spoke to Rogers on his 30th birthday.
Fred Rogers spoke of the importance of leading a “deep and simple” life and told Wagner, an MTV producer at the time, to “spread the message.”
“When an American icon tells you to spread the message, it’s a job. It’s an assignment,” Wagner said.
Wagner teamed with his brother Christofer and began the documentary Mister Rogers & Me, which aims to tell the story and explore the philosophies of the late Fred Rogers. The brothers worked in their free time to go on a hero’s quest of sorts in the 80-minute film.
“It just seemed like an opportunity to do something meaningful,” Wagner said.
It also gave the Conestoga High School graduate, who is now a senior vice president at MTV News in New York City, a chance to hang out with his brother. The duo made their first film together on Super 8 when Wagner was 10, and the two have always supported each other, even moving to New York together.
“We’re each other’s biggest fans,” Wagner said.
When it came time to decide where to screen the film before the March 20 release date, they looked for places where those who worked on the documentary already had connections. Rogers, Wagner said, was always talking about looking for the helpers in life.
“I just looked for the helpers, and Kirsten [Van Vlandren] was one,” Wagner said.
The documentary will screen at the Colonial Theatre on Sunday, March 11 at 4:30 p.m. Wagner said many involved with the film wanted to bring it back to their own hometowns, and he connected with Van Vlandren, a fellow Conestoga alum and assistant director at the theater.
More about getting the word out and telling a story, the movie wasn’t made to reap in a profit, Wagner said, and he saw an opportunity to help raise funds for The Association for the Colonial Theatre. Proceeds from the screening will benefit the Phoenixville theater.
“Kirsten and the work the people at the Colonial are doing, it’s aligned [with the film],” Wagner said. “It’s about community. It’s about neighbors. It’s about neighborhoods.”
Wagner’s high school music teacher is coming out to see the screening, along with many others who knew him when he was growing up in Chester County. He hopes to see strangers there as well.
If you go, expect to learn more about the children’s television icon and to have some time to sit back and reflect. The film moves slowly, taking in the messages and offering some quiet in a hectic world.
“We hope it’s an hour and a half of tranquil, pensive, thoughtful, reflective, valuable time,” Wagner said. “It’s the antithesis of a loud blockbuster.”
A Q&A session with the Wagner brothers will be held immediately following the screening on March 11.
If You Go:
When: Sunday, March 11 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: The Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville
Cost: $8 (or $5 for members)
More Info About the Film: The feature-length film will be released via PBS DVD, iTunes and 27 affiliates on what would have been Mister Rogers' 84th birthday, March 20. You can find the website at http://www.misterrogersandme.com.