Movie Magic in Mississippi

BY M. SCOTT MORRIS

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Directors often describe films as their “babies.”

That makes the first Oxford Film Festival the newest celluloid nursery on the block.

Considering Oxford's history of birthing other well-known creative endeavors, the new festival at the University of Mississippi's Ford Center for the Performing Arts June 19-22 makes perfect sense.

“I think having a film festival in Oxford is a great idea,” said Kevin Bales, who's film, “Slavery: A Global Investigation,” will be shown at the festival 2:35 p.m. Thursday, June 19. “It's a literary area that also has generated film scripts – some very good ones – over the years.”

The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council seized upon the idea a little more than a year ago. Since then, roughly 30 volunteers of YAC's Film Committee have taken the word “action” to heart.

“You would not believe how hard everyone has worked,” said Elaine Abadie, YAC executive director. “The response has been amazing.”

Movies and more

Films from Oxford, West Point, Tupelo and the rest of Northeast Mississippi will be competing with films from around the country and the world. Categories will include feature films, documentary films, short films, animated films, experimental films and youth films.

“We have 60 films we're showing over four days, and there's a lot of variety,” Abadie said. “About 50 of those will be in competition.”

In addition to screenings, the YAC Film Committee has attracted a talented list of movie professionals to town to share some of their expertise.

David Hayter was the scriptwriter for both “X-Men” movies as well as “The Scorpion King” and “The Hulk.” Anne Rapp wrote “Cookie's Fortune,” which was shot in Lafayette and Marshall counties. David Sheffield's credits include “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor.”

“They're all extremely talented,” said Neil White, publicity chairman for the festival. “They have some outstanding credits.”

Diverse offerings

Some of the more prestigious films include “Genghis Blues,” a documentary that earned Sundance's Audience Award, and Charles Burnett's “The Annihilation of Fish,” which stars James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.

Mississippians will make their presence known with a slew of diverse projects.

Jasmine Moorhead, 28, will be competing in the experimental films category. Her films, “99 Cent Dreams, Part I,” “Rotating Dogs,” “What Thunder Said” and “Zambian Footballers” will be shown 1:15 p.m. Friday, June 20.

“The shortest is about a minute and a half and the longest is about four minutes,” she said. “I like the idea of poetry applied to this. It's very specific, like poetry has to be. This is about moments and expressing things differently.”

Moorhead's work has been shown at film festivals in New York, Los Angeles and Paris.

Margaret Grantham doesn't call herself a filmmaker; she's more like an archivist. Her mother, Evie Pepper, started shooting footage with an 8 mm camera in the 1930s.

“I narrated them last year,” 69-year-old Grantham said. “I have hours and hours. My son edited it to 23 minutes.”

The black and white film, called “Darkness on the Delta,” shows an African-American baptism in the Yazoo River, a goose hunt, cotton picking and other slices of early 20th century life. The film will be presented 2:30 p.m. Thursday, June 19.

Weighty topics

Tupelo resident Darrell Marecle, 46, served as cinematographer and executive producer for a short film, “The Exile.”

“It's a monopoly game between Hitler, Napoleon, James Joyce and Stalin,” he said. It will be shown 12 p.m. Saturday, June 21.

Marecle, who operates a sound, light and video company in Tupelo, also served as a technical director on two of the children's films.

Bales, a professor at the University of Mississippi, and his partners have won two Emmy awards for a film based on his book, “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.”

The film festival entry, “Slavery: A Global Investigation,” is a longer version of the Emmy-winning documentary.

“I'll be doing a question-and-answer session after the showing,” Bales said.

The film has been shown at human rights film festivals across the world, but Bales is happy for the chance to show it to a hometown audience.

“I'm glad they're having the festival,” he said. “I hope it keeps going forever.”