Taking the temperature yielded concerns about self-image, bullying and atheism.
The reading being taken was that of the local film making scene at the winter edition of the James River Filmmakers Forum.
There was a decent crowd at the Visual Arts Center and the brown bags full of popcorn were lined up on the counter for the taking.
First up was Paul Hugins' "Applications," with a woman at a makeup table trying to make herself beautiful.
Make-up application wasn't enough, so she resorted to scalpels and giving herself plastic surgery while brassy vintage music played.
It's not pretty to watch someone carve up their own face, meaning the effects were good.
"As Best I Can Remember," was introduced by filmmaker James Mattise as, "There's gonna be a lot different vibe for this one. I was trying to create a film documentary without using Ken Burns."
Using audio created by his grandfather reminiscing about his life, James placed still photographs of his life - shots from his time on a minesweeper in the Navy, as a groom and young father, working at the family dairy- along with family shots to create a visual to accompany the memories.
The grandfather's dialog was informative and sharply observed, as when he said about being in the South Pacific during WWII, "If you were going to survive, you couldn't be foolish."
Nils Westergard and Daniel Ardure's "William" was introduced with the caveat," We made this after my first years as a film student and his second. We haven't watched it in a while so some parts may make me wince. And that's okay."
The story of a shy kid invited to a party in order to later cyber-bully him could be seen as a 21st century tragedy.
All I know is, I hate to see a college kid wake up next to a Supercan.
And speaking of college kids, I recognized the intersection of Main and Harrison and the credits acknowledged Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The only filmmaker in a tux (he said he was planning to fly out and crash the Oscars), James Cappello called the making of "Cain" a "long, arduous and sometimes lazy journey to get a film made. Oh, and I'm an atheist."
He then asked his parents to move to the front row so they could watch his film without heads in front of them and they obliged.
The tinny voice of god narrated the unusual take on the classic bible tale, with quotes from Nietzsche and lines like, "Humans can be such opportunists," and "Boys will be boys."
"The Persistence of Poe" was a more recent edit of the film I'd seen at the Poe Museum in September, introduced by David Fuchs as, "After biblical deepness, here's some light history."
A prior viewing meant I knew to expect excellent old photographs and illustrations along with the story of Poe's deeply unhappy and thwarted life.
Which meant that by the end of the screenings, we'd swung from self-mutilation to poets dying in gutters, with granddads, mean boys and brothers in between.
The only way to deal with that was by calling all the filmmakers up front for the forum part of the evening.
Alright, you guys, time to explain yourselves.
This is always a fun part of the program because you never know what you'll hear out of their mouths.
Like Hugins saying, "After seeing that again, I found that final shot (of her stabbing herself in the nose) too humorous for what I wanted to do with this film."
Humorous, grotesque, call it what you will.
He did say the film was about his (and everyone's) sense of self-doubt when it comes to looks.
Mattise talked about the sense he had when making the film about his grandfather of listening to the audio on headphones and feeling like he was having a conversation with the long-gone relative, meaningful since he'd been in high school when his grandfather had died and not really taking much note.
The screenwriter for the sad tale of "William" said that the intent was, "Going for the the most dramatic story I could to make a film with no money and our friends."
They spoke of Facebook as an analogy for the ancient art of public humiliation, something that hadn't occurred to me.
John the Atheist said he was drawn to using a bible story so he didn't have to create one of his own.
"I wanted a cheap but challenging story, but the original "Cain and Abel" was so dry."
JRFF host Jeff Roll asked him a terrific question about why an atheist would turn to a bible story instead of, say, Nietzsche or Sartre.
"What better way to talk about my opinion of the bible than by splintering it?" he retorted.
When asked, "How did being raised Catholic and turning atheist affect your film?" John answered, "Mom, do I have to answer that?"
Mom said yes.
He talked about Cain and Abel as victims, finishing with, "I don't really know how to justify it cause I'm just a 22-year old."
Then, turning back to his Mom, he inquired, "Did I answer that right?"
The Poe filmmaker Christine Stoddard spoke about all the little changes they'd made to the film since September in an attempt to make it more appropriate for long-term viewing at the Poe Museum, the eventual goal.
And, just like that, we closed out the forum, secure in the knowledge that interesting film making is being churned out all around us.
I'd probably cite "As Best I Can Remember" as my favorite tonight, but the fact that my grandfather was a milkman for Richmond Diary no doubt plays a role.
What's key is that young, local filmmakers continue to crank out new work on important subjects like mutilation, bullies, fratricide and dissolution.
Short-form Oscars, here they come.