By J. L. Mulvihill
As a writer, you are sometimes offered unique experiences that you must seize upon even if they may be out of your comfort zone. For instance, last year, I was given the opportunity to do a talk show called On The Page where I interviewed several authors, actors, and filmmakers. This year I was given the chance to interview some of the filmmakers who were presenting their films at the Magnolia Independent Film Festival in Starkville, Mississippi. Excited for the opportunity, I jumped at the chance, especially when I found out I would be seeing the movies before the interviews.
My first interview was with Jon Tackett and Dylan Scott who were presenting their short film Stache, which they had created in 48 hours. Jon and Dillon have both been in the film industry as writers, directors, and actors for at least 10 years. They were both easy going and a joy to speak with. The movie Stache is about a detective accusing the wrong man of a murder he did not commit. It is a fabulously funny movie that I found very impressive to have been done in only 48 hours.
My second interview was with Michal Sinnott and Alexandra Clayton who collaborated on their feature-length film Unpacking. These two ladies were a breath of fresh air and a joy to speak with. They both had extremely impressive bios in the theater and the film industry. Their film was extremely insightful and eye-opening to me. Unpacking is about six women who go to a retreat in Bali for a radical transformation by a self-proclaimed influencer guru, only to be slapped in the face by reality. I laughed, I cried, I opened my eyes, the movie was truly amazing and hit me on all levels.
The third interview was with producer Craig Holden and writer Neal Adelman. Both very talented and knowledgeable about the industry. We discussed their short film Truck Fishing in America, which is directed by Shelley Delaney. Truck Fishing in America is about two lost white men in a small town at odds with their own failed expectations. It is an intriguing and fascinating film written by Neil Adelman, a talented playwright who has now moved into films.
For my fourth interview I had the honor of interviewing Kurt St. Thomas, who is a legendary DJ, writer, director, producer, all around man of many hats. Kurt is a very humble but extremely talented man who was presenting his feature-length film D.O.A. This is a film noir in black and white about a hardboiled detective trying to solve the crime of his own murder, but he has to figure it out before he dies. This movie was a fantastic undertaking filmed in St. Augustine, Fla. and takes on a whole life of its own.
My last interview, and certainly not least, was with Clint Till, who is a very talented Cinematographer, director, and editor out of Memphis. Clint has been in the business for more than 20 years and has his own video production company. His filmography delves into many genres showing he is not afraid to try different things and I enjoyed our interview. Clint presented his short film The Milky Way, a hilarious story from the get-go showing that a mother will do whatever it takes to give their child a very best.
You can see all these interviews and the links to more information about these movies on my YouTube channel. I will be posting more in-depth reviews for some of these films on other sites. Independent filmmakers, like authors, can always use a review to help boost the promotion of their work. I thought that all these films were wonderful, and I respect the work the filmmakers put into them.
In doing these interviews and posting them, I was also given the opportunity to attend the film festival. I have been to several film festivals, and I feel they are all unique in how they do things, so I was anxious to see how this one would take place. After a short two-hour drive, I found myself in north Mississippi among the rolling fields of farmland dotted with small towns and big colleges.
In the old State Theatre of downtown Starkville, Miss., the darkly-lit room smelled of stale beer, yet the wooden pillars and brick walls showcasing the brightly lit stage told another story today. On the stage where hundreds of musicians and playacts have stood, Jeremy Burgess presented his workshop, The Production Value of Collaborative Screenwriting. Jeremy is an award-winning film producer based out of Birmingham, Ala. He shared his inspirations and the do’s and don’ts of filmmaking to a room filled with film enthusiasts of all ages.
After 90 minutes of interesting and valuable information, a panel discussion was presented on Making a Living in the Film Industry. The panelists sharing their invaluable insight on the business were: Rick Moore, founder and owner of Eyevox Entertainment and Mad Genius, out of Ridgeland, Miss.; Christi Dubois of West Point, Miss. working in the art department in the film industry; Ben Powell, a cinematographer, documentarian, and founder of Broken Arm Studio in Cleveland, Miss.; Antonio Tarrell, a respected filmmaker and director of numerous feature films from Oxford, Miss.; and Michael Williams from West Point, Miss., who is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, founder and owner of Shendopen Productions, as well as president of the Magnolia Independent Film Festival.
After the panel discussion it was movie time, and a change of venue to the UEC Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville, Miss.. The UEC Hollywood Premier opened in July 2000 as an eight-screen multiplex with all stadium seating and curved screens. Later they increased their screen count to eleven. The Film Festival had been screening movies from February 23 through February 25, which turned out to be the biggest night as seats sold out.
The aroma of buttered popcorn filled the air and each seat including added chairs at the front were filled. Unlike most movies we go to see in big theaters, the spectators were silent and attentive during each movie, and applauded encouragingly at the end of every film. I found this to be an added substance to the experience, showing how the locals appreciated the hard work these filmmakers put into their movies. There were no negative feelings or resentment, and everyone seemed to respect the art of moviemaking and those who poured their heart into it.
This feeling of admiration and respect of the industry carries over from and through the Magnolia Independent Film Festival, lovingly referred to as the MAG Film Festival. MAG founder Ron Tibbett was himself a filmmaker who moved to Mississippi from Chicago. After making a movie called Swept Off My Feet, and looking to submit it to local film festivals, he found there were none in Mississippi. In 1997, he started The MAG Film Festival and even had a hand in helping several other film festivals launch throughout Mississippi. Sadly, Ron Tibbett lost his life in a car accident in 2004, but his legacy lives on as the torch was carried by his wife, friends, and the community who all have a love for the art of filmmaking. Through the ups and downs, 26 years later the MAG is still going strong.
Speaking with several volunteers I found that everyone involved with The MAG feel this love and passion for the arts. They are all encouraging and positive of each other and everyone involved from the guy who runs for coffee to the director who runs the show. Chris Misun, who has been the festival director for two years now is a graphic designer and broadcasting instructor for Mississippi State, (MSU), the local college in Starkville, Miss. Chris is also the advisor for the film club at the college and his enthusiasm for the industry and the festival bubbles over through his personality and infectious smile. Chris expressed that they are thankful for the support of the community and the help of the volunteers. It has been the mission of the MAG to offer independent filmmakers a platform that respects the hard work they have put into their films. The MAG will continue to showcase independent films and create a positive experience for all who attend including the filmmakers who bring their films to the festival.
Angela Baker has been with the festival since 2002 and has worn many hats over the years working with The MAG including director and now treasurer. Angela started volunteering for The MAG because she liked Ron Tibbett and his dream to make this festival big and an important part of Mississippi. This is a shared feeling with everyone involved with The MAG.
Newcomer and volunteer Dominique Lewis, who attends MSU and MUW in Mississippi has never worked at the film festival before but found the people to be extremely friendly, encouraging, and inspiring. She explained to me that “everyone works so very hard to put this event together and make it work.”
A young group of filmmakers spoke with me in between films, hopeful that their film “The Gift” is chosen for the 48 hours award. Trinity Tubbs is a junior at Belhaven College, and she and her classmates collaborated on this film for the 48-hour challenge with the help and direction of their teacher, Rick Negron. The challenge is to create a film in 48 hours, and anyone can enter as long as they follow the guidelines set forth.
So after seeing several of the films myself both prior to the event for interviews, and actually at the event, I wondered how it would be possible to fairly judge these films. I spoke with the four judges: Christi Dubois, an art teacher, theater major, mother, and actress; Cary Glynn, an artist, writer, and filmmaker; Chad Hathcock, with a bachelor’s in communications from MSU; and Makel Gandy, who attends ICC and studies film and drama production. These judges explained to me that every year four judges are handpicked by The MAG, having some background and knowledge of the film industry. After viewing the films, they must deliberate and discuss each of the technical aspects, the writing, the cinematography, the acting, and many other aspects of the films before picking the winners.
My experience with the Magnolia Independent Film Festival was educational, exciting, enlightening, encouraging, and most of all it has inspired me to fulfill my own dreams and expectations. But it’s not just about my experience, but everyone’s, including the community and the state of Mississippi overall. The MAG offers not only a way for Mississippi as a whole to showcase the artistic community within, but also a place for all filmmakers to share their work and express their passion in the filmmaking industry.
If you want to know who the winners are this year, you will just have to go to the website and find out for yourself. While you are there, check out The MAG and its affiliates. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to become a filmmaker, and if you make that film, The MAG just might be the place for you to present it.
A California native born in Hollywood, California, J.L. MULVIHILL wanted to be a rock star. After several years of modeling, acting, and singing, she decided to marry, have a family, and moved to a quieter life in Mississippi where she has lived for the past twenty years. Finding she has a gift for story telling she began to write young adult books, including the Steel Roots series and The Lost Daughter of Easa. She is very active in the writing community, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Imagicopter, the Mississippi Writers Guild and Clinton Ink-slingers Writing Group. She continues to write fantasy, steampunk, poetry and essays inspired by her life in the South.