Independent spirit on display at Tupelo Film Festival

TUPELO – You know where to go for blockbuster movies. If you want something a little different, the Lyric Theatre is the place, especially if you hurry.
The sixth Tupelo Film Festival opened on Thursday and will continue until Saturday. The event will feature more than 40 films, or you could say more than 40 labors of love.
“It’s through festivals like this that people become aware that there are other types of films out there,” said Michael Rose, a festival judge who made the documentary, “Elvis Returns to Tupelo.”
The films in competition don’t have big budgets, but they still pack a punch.
“Does the film touch you? Does the film move you?” Rose said. “If you start noticing the technique, it’s probably not working. In the end, it’s all about the emotional experience.”
Terry Engelhart of Saltillo spent much of Thursday soaking up stories on the screen. When asked for a favorite, he named “Who Does She Think She Is?” a documentary about artistic mothers and their balancing acts, and “1915,” a short film about two brothers who must make a tough decision.
“I saw a lot of good movies,” he said, “but those were very moving, very moving.”
Festival judge Philece Sampler is making a return trip to Tupelo. She also served as a judge in 2005.
“It’s very exciting to see how the festival has blossomed and grown,” she said.
Soap opera fans might recognize Sampler from her time as Renee on “Days of Our Lives” and Donna on “Another World.” Now, she plays to a different audience as a voice-over actress for both “Madagascar” films, as well as TV cartoons like “Stanley,” “Transformers” and many others.
“In the last five years, it’s really snowballed. I love doing voice overs because I get to play so many different characters,” said Sampler, who can effortlessly change voices three times in one sentence.
John Velasquez, a New York native who lives in Baldwyn, isn’t in the film industry, but the future’s open.
“To write a screenplay is kind of my dream,” he said. “I wanted to check things out here and be around it.”
Deana Clapp of Hattiesburg and Carmen Reyneke of South Africa could be the subjects of a movie someday. The pair met as English teachers in South Korea, and they’ve been traveling the U.S. since March.
“We came to Tupelo for the festival and Elvis,” Clapp said.
In addition to films, Reyneke sampled Southern cuisine during Thursday’s kick-off party.
“Fantastic. I love them,” she said of fried green tomatoes.
“Leave it to us down South,” Clapp said, “to add cholesterol to a vegetable.”

Movie time
– What: Tupelo Film Festival
– When: Today and Saturday
– Where: The Lyric Theatre
– Film block prices: $5/adults, $2.50/students, seniors
– Info: (662) 841-6521,

– Today
• 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – free film forum with Hudson Hickman at Vanelli’s
• 1 to 5 p.m. – screenings at Lyric
• 5 to 6:50 p.m. – break
• 6:50 to 11:15 p.m. – screenings at Lyric

– Saturday
• 9 a.m. to noon – “Fighting for Camera and Action Film Production” workshop, BancorpSouth Conference Center, $35, reservation required

• 9 a.m. to noon – “Moviemakers: Movie Animation Workshop for Kids” for grades 1 to 5, Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, free, reservation required

• 1 to 8:40 p.m. – screenings at Lyric

• 9 to 10:15 p.m. – awards ceremony

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio