"Mister Rogers & Me" To World Premiere At Nantucket Film Festival

April 13th, 2010

It’s official.

Our documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me,” will world premiere at the Nantucket Film Festival June 17-20.

Of course, the film was born on Nantucket in September, 2001, when — during a encounter with my actual summer neighbor (my mother rented a tiny cottage on on the island’s West End just next door to Mister Rogers “Crooked House”) — America’s Favorite Neighbor asked me about my job at MTV.

“I feel so strongly,” he said, “That deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

The following summer, I told Mister Rogers how frequently I’d considered what he said.

“Spread the message, Benjamin. Spread the message.”

Eight years later, with stops in Durham, NC; Fredericksburg, VA; Washington, DC; Boston, MA; Pittsburgh and Latrobe, PA (plus hours upon hours in our New York City edit, one marriage, two births and a third expected within days of the films’ premiere), my brother and my documentary is returning to Nantucket.

The film features interviews with Mister Rogers’ friends, neighbors and collaborators: Tim Russert (“Meet The Press”), Susan Stamberg (NPR), and Linda Ellerbee (Nick News), Marc Brown (“Arthur”), Davy Rothbart (Found Magazine), Dr. Susan Linn (Campaign for a Commerical Free Childhood), Amy Hollingsworth (“The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers”), Tim Madigan (“I’m Proud of You”), Bo Lozoff (“Deep & Simple”) and Beverly Hall (“My Nantucket”).

The call came Friday afternoon. I was at work.

“Tell me where you are with your film,” Artistic Director Mystelle BrabĂ©e asked.

My pulse raced. My heart throbbed in my ears. I turned towards the window, put my feet up on the radiator, and endeavored to remain calm.

“Well, last night we moved an entire segment from the last third to the first,” I stammered. “Yunno, to increase stakes. But that’s about the last, big change we can make; we don’t have the time or money to do anything drastic, just voice over, music, trimming… stuff like that.”

“Are you interested in a few notes?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I said, “Four people have seen this thing. I’m more than happy to hear your thoughts.”

We talked a few minutes more. The entire time I wondered, ‘Are we in!?!’

Finally, Mystelle said, “Let’s move forward with this.”

Inhale. Hold…

“Daniela will send you a confirmation letter…”


I called Christofer a few seconds later.

“We’re in!” I said before thanking him for following me all over the Northeast and working into the wee hours night after night after night.

And then I called Abbi. My wife is due on June 9, just eight days prior to the start of the festival.

“I find it hard to believe this is just a coincidence,” I told her. “A film festival on Father’s Day Weekend with a film by a brand-new father about the grandfather he wished he’d had…”

Walking home, my excitement began to turn to anxiety. What about that last piece of footage? What about the music? What about the web site? The premiere party? Will the baby be born in time? Where will we stay? How will we get there? Who will come? Will we finish it in time? What about the end? Will anyone like it?

I looked up beyond the buildings to the stars, and heard Mister Rogers clear as a bell.

“You’re doing fine, Benjamin. You’re doing fine.”

14 thoughts on “"Mister Rogers & Me" To World Premiere At Nantucket Film Festival”

  1. Elizabeth Harper says:

    Big congrats on this Benjamin … I got all teary reading your post. I am beyond thrilled for you and your brother and for the opportunity you've created to have the message of Mister Rogers reach a larger audience.

    I'm sure you know this, but first babies are usually late which could make the film premiere even more exciting for you if your first born decides to make his or her debut at the same time as Mister Rogers & Me.

  2. Linda says:

    Such exciting news! Nantucket FF is perfect for your film's debut! And you're in my backyard. Depending on the day it screens, I just might be there. Congratulations!

  3. atleast says:

    Oh Benjamin. I'm so pleased. I got teary reading your post as well. What better venue for the premiere than the Nantucket Film Festival? You know he's proud of you both, right?

  4. Paige Bresky says:

    Benjamin, this is fantastic news! I am a big Mister Rogers fan and truly believe his message in your film will reverberate for decades to come. Also, I work in NYC nightlife. Please let me know if you need any assistance planning your party, as I host at many clubs/lounges.

    Good luck!

    Paige Bresky

  5. InsideYMStudio says:

    Congratulations, Benjamin! Those of us who have watched from afar and have been cheering you and Christofer all along and are so proud of you for following your dreams!

  6. Philip says:

    How exciting this is. Our family spent summers in Nantucket from the 1930's through the 1980's (until the change) and became good friends of the Rogers. I believe his influence is more prevalent today than we may realize. And works like yours keep his life messages out there to be learned and re-learned. I hope to have an oportunity to see your film. Is it available for purchase?

  7. Benjamin says:

    Thank you all so much for you ongoing support and encouragement. I may have buried the lead, of course: my wife is due just eight days prior to the festival!

    Phillip, so exciting to hear that he was YOUR neighbor too! I hope the film will receive some sort of national broadcast then be released on DVD thereafter. We're in the second step of a long, long run! 🙂

  8. Jami Santore says:

    What a lovely project and a great contribution to everyone in our generation who was affected by Mr. Rogers. True, heartfelt congratulations to you.

    And when I read, "You're doing fine, Benjamin. You're doing fine," I clearly heard the kindness and acceptance always present in Mr. Roger's voice and the goosebumps on my arms were undeniable.

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  • Benjamin Wagner first met “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” creator and star, Fred Rogers, at Rogers’ summer home on Nantucket, Massachusetts. His mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was his neighbor. On the afternoon of their first meeting, “America’s Favorite Neighbor” asked the young journalist about his job as an MTV News producer.  Wagner felt exposed and a tiny-bit embarrassed, a PBS mind in a jump-cut, sound-bit MTV world. Mister Rogers said warml ...
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