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York’s “Smokes and Ears” popular at Tupelo FF

May 20, 2010
It would have to take something pretty special for me to become fascinated with pig ears. But then, Joe York’s documentaries, typically fit the bill to give me a new perspective on a topic. His latest, “Smokes and Ears,” played at The Tupelo Film Festival last weekend and took third place in the Best Documentary category.
Looking at the Big Apple Inn on historic Farish Street, the 26-minute documentary examines not only the history of the restaurant but the changes in Black culture in Jackson as Farish reached its peak as a “Bourbon Street-esque popular nightspot” in the 60s and 70s to today where most of the shops are closed up, with only memories and signs pointing to its heyday.
But really, that is all just breading around the meat of the story: the pig ear and smokes, a spicy ground-sausage. The restaurant, known as Big John’s by its most faithful customers, is famous for the two types of sandwiches.
The magic of the documentary is that while the idea of ever biting into a pig ear sounds just wrong, 26 minutes later, you would do just about anything to drive down to Jackson and get one of your own.
What is great about York’s documentary style is the way he weaves history of a place into the story of this family owned restaurant. As per usual, York also finds a way to bring a lot of humor in and at the Tupelo screening, some of the biggest laughs the entire weekend were people reacting to his film.
But what caused a bigger stir was the pig sandwich. Filmmakers from Montreal, New York and throughout the country that were visiting were fascinated by the idea of such a sandwich and days after the festival are still sharing e-mails and Facebook discussions talking about pig ears.
Co-produced by Media and Documentary Projects and the Southern Foodways Alliance, the documentary was created to honor Geno Lee, proprietor of the Big Apple Inn and the winner of the SFA’s 2009 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award. It’s a great addition to York’s filmography that captures the stories of Mississippi.
You can view the film and other of York’s documentaries at

As published in the Oxford Town.


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