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A Closer Look at Mississippi Films at the Oxford Film Festival

January 29, 2008

Printed in the Lafashopper. Tuesday, January 29, 2008


 Modern documentaries have evolved to capture more than brief moments of time as the first silent films did. With heavier influence from directors, docu­mentaries have become social statements that inform, incite, and provoke its audience. However, despite the commercial success of major documentaries such as “Inconvenient Truth” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” docu­mentary filmmaking is still an art that often does not get enough credit. At the Oxford Film festival, we will have the opportunity to experience some original and even innovative documentary films. Stories that focus on people, or even one place, the documentaries cre­ated by filmmakers transcend issues and memories of the people within them and invoke universal truth.

Several of the films in the festival are made by Mississippi filmmakers or are focused on Mississippi. On Thursday night, Feb. 7, “Sorry We’re Open” and “Blue Mountain” highlight two cultural aspects of Oxonian daily life.In “Sorry We’re Open” Joe York will present a trib­ute to the Hoka, Ron Shapiro’s movie theater “that served as the heart of Oxford’s cultural and counter-cultural life from the late 1970s through the middle 1990s,” according to the Oxford Film festival website. According to York, the project began in order to “make a little film to explain what the Hoka award is” for those at the Oxford Film festival. But according to York, it was a “simple idea that grew very organically and rapidly…It grew into a film about that Oxford that kinda was, kinda is, and the trepidation of what Oxford may become.”

The film spawned an ongoing dialogue with Oxonians leading to a new project. As producer and director at the University of Mississippi Center for Documentary Projects, York, Micah Ginn, Andy Harper, and Matthew Graves have begun compiling stories, pictures and home video footage of Oxford’s past. “We just realized that as excited as people were to talk about the Hoka, there were a lot of other places in Oxford that people could get as excited about dis­cussing,” said York.

As part of this ongoing dialogue, Andy Harper, Director of Media Projects and York held a Brown Bag Lecture on “Brainstorming for Stories: Questions for Oxonians on Oxford” where they discussed the Hoka and other stories of Oxford. On Wednesday, Feb. 6, York will be on hand along with Ginn, co-director of the film festival, as well as other fes­tival coordinators at the Brown Bag Lecture “A Preview of the Oxford Film Festival” to be held at the University of Mississippi Barnard Observatory.

Another intricate part of Oxford life is its music and the second Thursday night documentary, “Blue Mountain” will take a look at the trio’s rehearsal, studio, and live recordings. The film is directed by Thad Lee and is one of two movies accepted to the film festival by him. “Mantis Rhes” a clever short narrative, starring locals Barton Segal and Rhes Low, will premiere on Friday at 10 p.m. On Friday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m., John Fiege (actually from Texas) will examine the struggle of Latin American immigrants working on a poultry farm in rural Mississippi. “Mississippi Chicken” was filmed on Super 8mm film, and according to the filmmakers, “both beautifully captures the light, texture and feel of summer in the Deep South and elicits a connection between the current immi­grants’ rights struggle and the Civil Rights Era, when Super 8 was popular.”

Three Mississippi documen­taries will play on screen one on Saturday, Feb. 9, begin­ning at 2 p.m. In “Yesterday’s Charm,” Jarratt Taylor tours Oxford with his mother as they recall past landmarks. This will be an interesting film for any­one who has watched Oxford’s slowly changing landscape. “Forgotten Coast,” directed by Jamie Christensen Johnston, will explore the economic effect of Hurricane Katrina on the coast.Johnston said, “When I flew from Salt Lake City to Gulfport the Christmas after the storm, I couldn’t believe the total dev­astation that I was seeing from the air – even given everything my mother had been telling me. I knew that the national media, with a few excep­tions, wasn’t covering this devas­tation like they should have been doing.” After a second trip back to the coast, she saw that the recov­ery effort and the people of Mississippi and Alabama were the real story.

“With the coastal area basi­cally wiped clean, I began to wonder what would happen to the culture and climate of the region that I knew and loved if those people didn’t return. I made “Forgotten Coast” on the one year anniversary of Katrina in an effort to tell the story of how people along the Coast were dealing with the chang­es since the storm, and also I hoped to try to understand what was in store for the ‘Riviera of the South.’ (as many in my film called it).”

Johnston states that she is “very excited about being accepted at the Oxford Film Festival, as this is truly a film for and about the people of Mississippi and Alabama. I worked for the Sundance Film Festival for 4 years, and I am amazed at how well Oxford is treating their filmmakers-better than many larger festivals!”Lastly, “Falsifyin’” is a musi­cal journey into Clarksdale and the impact of Boogie Woogie music. The film records a night at Ground Zero with interviews and performances with Jerry Lee Lewis, Pinetop Perkins and more. According to producer, Mary Leigh Hennings, “Greg’s film grew out of his deep love for Boogie Woogie music and a desire to trace its roots and evolution, particularly as the genre relates to The Blues and Rock ‘n Roll…what came out of this experience in Clarksdale was a much different and more important story as Greg cap­tured the power of the music and its transformative ability to heal deep cultural wounds.” Filmmaker Gregory Sabatino is scheduled to appear at the fes­tival.

“We dedicated the film to the people of Clarksdale. Their warmth, hopitality and joy not only moved us all but shaped our final product. So…it is a real honor to be part of the Oxford Film Festival at a place we came to love and turned out to be the heart of the story we had to tell,” explained Hennings.

Also on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 2:30 p.m., in “Another Word for Family,” documentary film maker April Grayson returns to the delta in this part compila­tion and part experimental film. She will explore the impact that the troubled history of the Delta has made on her life. This film will play as part of the experi­mental series and panel and Grayson is scheduled to appear at the panel.

For images from the films:

For more information on Mississippi and other documen­tary films that will premiere at the Oxford Film Festival, visit the website at

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