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SPECIAL EDITION Covey Film Festival

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Issue No.

Covey Film Fest Opens with Beauty in Truth In the months leading up to the Covey Film Festival, I’ve been pinching myself. Is this for real? And happening in our favorite little town of Thomasville? Covey opened last night and it’s living up to what I was hoping for. Of course, cupcakes at the door don’t hurt.

I chatted with Paula L. of Lucy + Leo’s while tasting a few *ahem* mini cupcakes, then

moseyed upstairs. Dr. Sharon Maxwell-Ferguson, board chair for the Thomasville Community Resource Center, gave the introduction for the film. She described how hard it was to create a new fundraiser, since some organization is doing something fabulous almost every week. “LaRhonda {interim director of TCRC}, Didi {Reuschel} and I and a few others met at the coffee shop and just said: film festival, no one’s doing a film festival,” said Maxwell-Ferguson. One of the founders of TCRC is actress Jane Fonda, and Dr. Maxwell-Ferguson’s daughter Megan Evers-Swindell is an actress, as well. It was a natural fit. Beauty in Truth is a film about author Alice Walker, who wrote The Color Purple and many other books. Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar has worked with Walker on other film projects prior to this one. Dr. MaxwellFerguson was pleased to inform us that we are one of the only audiences to view the film prior to its acquisition by PBS. Born in 1944 to sharecropper parents in Putnam County, Georgia, Alice was the youngest of eight. The film moved between family photos, interviews with those who knew Walker at different times in her life, readings of her work and reel footage from the Civil Rights Movement. Films can allow us to escape or connect, and this was a connection experience for me. My grandmother was one of 12 children born to sharecroppers in Laurens County, Georgia, and there are similarities between the stories my grandmother told me and the ones told by Walker. As a writer, I could identify with Walker’s compulsion to process the world through words. The experience was deeper than that, though, because of elements introduced by the footage of Civil Rights Movement violence. It’s easy to see one video and a few pictures and feel that you know about the movement. The images were disturbing and inspired immediate empathy and protectiveness. To put that together with someone very similar in background and interests to my grandmother was painful and made me more aware of the cruel reality of those years. The end of the film focused on Walker’s search for healing, something she sought for her characters in The Color Purple. There is something intrinsic about creating a life you love and doing the things you feel you’re meant to do that can lead to extreme contentedness. Walker seems to have found her healing and, as noted by a former professor, has always lived by her own rules, as he illustrated in a quote attributed to Emerson: “I only feel bad about myself when I listen to others”. Great documentary filmmaking can change our minds and, sometimes, our lives. Parmar took many fragmented sections of Walker’s life and created a cohesive narrative, highlighting good and bad, and leaving viewers with a sense of peace and hope. Kudos to the board members of Covey for choosing this film. It set the festival in motion with a deep, compelling story and with great expectations for the rest of the festival. - Bunny B.

The Great Debaters After The Great Debaters had ended, one of the first questions Roland

Legiardi-Laura asked Valerie Scoon, guest speaker and one of the film’s producers, regarded how the filmmakers handled embedding what he called “dangerous politics” into the film. The story depicts a negro college debate team who challenged and beat Harvard’s team, but not before debating their way out of 1935 Jim Crow Texas, and then challenging and defeating “Anglo-Saxons,” as dubbed by debate coach Melvin Tolson, at neighboring all-white universities. Historical, or period, films “can be a hard sell” in Hollywood, Scoon said in the discussion, if they’re too serious. But the “dangerous politics” of The Great Debaters was simply the reality of the period that the filmmakers had to accept was going to be a part of the film—racial discrimination, segregation, lynch mobs— which then led into further discussion of how the historical details had to be packaged in dramatization for entertainment value, and where the line existed between historical accuracy and dramatization. I’m a huge fan of “based on actual events,” but I’m always interested in ferreting out the real story after I watch films like The Great Debaters, because I think they have a tendency to leave viewers perpetuating fictionalized elements alongside historical facts without knowing the difference. I appreciated that Ms. Scoon addressed in the Q & A, and unabashedly, that Hollywood produces what entertains. It made me sad that in the face of such a story, where one of Tolson’s mantras is simply “speak the truth,” that current mainstream sources of truth are channels which treat it the way Hollywood treats history—except cable news shows aren’t prefaced with “based on actual news”. As with films, people perpetuate the embellishments alongside whatever is left of the facts without knowing any better. The greatest strength of this film’s story is the conviction with which the Wiley debate team delivers its arguments, and that those truths and their conviction deliver the arguments all the way to the radio-broadcasted Harvard debate, and into the ears of the nation. CONTINUED PAGE 2


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Stomp the Yard I jumped at the chance to cover the Covey Film Festival for the Townie. I was almost in disbelief that such a huge cultural event landed itself in Thomasville. Well, that is until I attended this event on Wednesday night and got schooled on a little of the rich film history of this area.

When I first got to the Stomp the Yard event, I sat at a table with Betty Holmes-Anthony,

former educator and resident of New York City, and current retiree of Tallahassee, who drove up to support the event, and her friend Doby Flowers, Steering Committee member. Holmes-Anthony told me, “I applaud the efforts of the originators and planners of the cultural center and this particular event.” She was not the only person excited about the event, I got the exclusive opportunity to sit with Gregory Anderson, screenplay writer for Stomp the Yard, and producer and writer for many others. I was honored that he would sit with me, burgeoning writer extraordinaire, but he did so with such enthusiasm that it was contagious. First, let me tell you a little about Mr. Anderson. He is a Tallahassee native, but currently lives in Los Angeles. He graduated from Florida A&M and co-founded Rainforest Films with fellow graduates in 1994. He flew here just to be a part of this event--free of charge. His parents still reside in Tallahassee, and although he has lived in LA and Atlanta, he still carries a Florida driver’s license because that is his permanent home. His Florida address still shows up on film contracts. You can tell that family is important to Mr. Anderson, because many of them were in attendance to the event. His cousin, Rosalyn Curington, who came from Atlanta in support of her cousin, sang two different songs during the reception at Anderson’s father’s request. Let me tell you, Anderson a busy guy, but that didn’t stop him from participating in this event. He was “excited to be a part of this community that had a great and rich history of film,” one that no one told him about when he was a kid. He wanted to become a part of this event early on to inspire other people to join in. I did not realize until I talked to him, that people were making films in Thomasville, Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs, Jacksonville and Quincy--just to name a few--before there was a Hollywood. Despite living in LA, the hub of Hollywood activity, Anderson still comes back to Tallahassee to write. At first, he tried to be bi-coastal, but he explained that when you are first starting out, you really need to get to know the key players. His biggest advice, “Get to know people’s names and faces and then you can move wherever.” He plans on returning to this area permanently at some point. Stomp the Yard was inspired by Anderson’s experience at Florida A&M University, where he pledged Omega Psi Phi. He indicated that the movie producers were not used to the “different type of fraternity experience” which is unique to historically black colleges and universities. He had to put together a mini-documentary to highlight the magic-that-is-step-dancing to tune them in to the experience. Anderson originally wrote the screenplay in 1996, but put it in a box in his parents’ garage where it remained for seven years. When movies such as Bring it On and Drum Line came out, he and other movie executives decided to dust off the script and give it a more contemporary spin. Anderson returned to FAMU and his fraternity where he was a fly on the wall to observe his “test subjects.” This exclusive first-hand experience is what gives Stomp the Yard its magic. If you haven’t seen Stomp the Yard, go out and watch it now, and do not be afraid to include your children in your movie experience. It’s a family friendly film about DJ Williams, a street dancer, who moves to Georgia to attend Truth University after his brother is murdered. After his arrival at Truth, he falls in love and pledges a fraternity where he is involved in stepping competitions. The film was wrapped up with a question and answer session with Anderson and Roland Legiardi-Laura, a New York based filmmaker and poet. Anderson said that it is an “out of body experience” every time he gets to see the film; the final step competition always gives him chills. Anderson explained during the Q&A that this film is full of lessons which bring the characters from a place of mis-education to education. For example, in the film, the characters have to learn that fraternities are not about bullying; they are about brotherhood. Both Anderson and Legiardi-Laura encouraged members of the Thomasville community to take advantage of the opportunities that the Covey Film Festival is bringing to our area--especially for anyone that is interested in writing or filmmaking. They urged audience members to attend the Saturday workshops for children on Saturday from 9-11 A.M. with Jay Sculley. Tonight was a special event for me--I got to learn a lot about our culturally rich area and the film industry from Gregory Anderson, and I got to watch a film with the screenwriter present. I am grateful for the time that he took to sit and speak with me, as well as the time he has devoted to the Covey Film Festival. If you get an opportunity to attend any of the Covey events, I encourage you to do so. It is a memorable and enlightening experience. - Denise P.

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SPECIAL EDITION Covey Film Festival

Follow Covey @CoveyFilmFestiv

Issue No.

Debaters Continued Despite its episodes of discomfiting racial tension and several gut-wrenching scenes of injustice, the The Great Debaters will have your attention from the get-go, and your heart in the end. Denzel Washington plays Melvin Tolson, the poetry professor, labor organizer and debate team coach, and fully embodies the inspirational tour-de-force the real Tolson must have been to lead Wiley College’s debaters over so many insurmountable odds. Washington can summon a cinematic feel-good moment with little more than a look, and he delivers plenty in this film. Despite the fact that the source material for the film was more centrally based on the story of James Farmer, Sr., played by Forest Whitaker, and his coming-of-age son, Washington’s charismatic, witty and humbling portrayal of Tolson dominates the screen. This makes it especially affective when he is arrested for labor organization and as a condition of his arrest, unable to travel to Cambridge to see his debate team defeat Harvard {or so we’re led to think for a little while}. The Covey board chose well with this film because, as was discussed afterward, it lends itself to being a powerful classroom teaching tool. It delivers profound moral and historical lessons effortlessly, in perhaps the not-so-long-as-we’d-like-ago American South, through the highly formalized debate style practiced in both black and white colleges during the period. In 1935, a time when people weren’t constantly plugged in to voices telling them how and what they ought to think, it was refreshing to see the film’s debaters make arguments by quoting St. Augustine, W.E.B. Dubois, and Henry David Thoreau. At a time when black debaters had every reason to stand at a podium and scream at the top of their lungs, the way Wiley College’s debaters gracefully take turns against opponents, delivering painstakingly researched, masterfully delivered rhetoric filled with thoughtful, undeniable arguments, makes today’s political debate arenas look like squabbling matches over penny-candies. Because technology has provided for argument overkill in our society, the truth of a matter is often bent, filtered or obfuscated, if not wholly inaccessible. The Great Debaters is a beautiful, complex film, but one in which truth leads to freedom. It may also show you the first great debate you’ve seen in a very long time. - Jennifer W.

Constant fine-tuning takes place throughout the long process of writing and

editing, rewriting and occasional scrapping. The script doesn’t truly come to life until the actors finally are involved. This past Sunday at the Flower’s Auditorium on the Thomas University campus, an eye-opening inside view into an important part of the filmmaking process was performed through an incredible script reading done by local actors of the up-and-coming movie “The Highwaymen.” Now, what is a Highwayman, you ask? Let’s revisit the 1960s during the United States pre Civil Rights movement. Imagine the rampant social unrest and the frustrated black youth trying to find respectable outlets to make money outside of their typical means of crushing manual labor. Through perseverance, a love for art, and a desperation to transcend the social norm and create an experience of their own, a group of African American men created a factory-like operation where they could churn out twenty to thirty colorful landscape paintings out in a day, which they then sold on the side of the road, to hotels, at railroad stations, and out of the backs of their trunks. These paintings were made from the supplies they could afford at the time- jypsum boards crudely tacked to trees, cheap oil paint, and frames made from crown molding. Despite the lack of sophistication in their work, it is undeniable when viewing the paintings that the human spirit can truly outshine scholastic effort. Gregory Anderson, screenwriter for “Stomp the Yard” read the part of the main character, Alfred Hair, an eighteen year old black football player who never saw himself being anything but an artist, and who organized and trained his friends to paint in the style now specifically recognized as the “Highwaymen style.” The entire story was heartfully read aloud by actors and locals Jocelyn Jackson, Summer Hill Seven, Emily Wellman, Nathan Hauser, and was narrated by Chip Hoffman. Writer and director Tom Thompson was available for questions following the reading, and provided clout and insight by elaborating on his process, resume, budget, and projections for distribution. Tom Thompson has worked in front and behind the camera in films and television shows such as “Rosewood,” “The Green Mile,” “Dawson’s Creek,” and “Blade: The Series.” Also following the reading was a tastefully color saturated trailer for the film that emphasized the romantic landscapes that gave credibility towards the inspiration of the entire Highwaymen movement. As cool as the concept of the Highwaymen is, feeling it come to life through voice and presence was truly a magical experience, and brought gravity and reality to the times that were being portrayed. At the same time, there is something colorless about a motivating story “about something,” as Tom Thompson stated. “It is about perseverance, and about a man who knows what he wants and aspires to be.” -Laura F. Highwaymen,”

“This feels like the final home for this film,” says screenwriter and Monticello, FL, native, Lucy Alibar. If that tugs at you a little in the chest, that’s the feeling you’ll get every time Alibar speaks.

During the Q+A after the film, facilitated by Jane Fonda and Megan Evers-Swindell, Alibar

kept referring to her inability to articulate some of the reasons for the film and some of its themes. But I don’t think it’s a lack of articulation, I just think she communicates so deeply from the heart that perhaps there are no words for the truth she’s telling us. Beasts of the Southern Wild opens with the viewer following Hushpuppy, a tiny girl in rain boots, around her yard. She visits the chickens and the pig, putting her ear to each, seemingly listening for the scratchings of a life force or waiting for a secret to be told. Once we are firmly entrenched in the muddy bayou life Hushpuppy leads, elements of magical realism are introduced in the form of beasts who come to devour all we hold dear. Because of the naturally grounding effect of the characters’ hardscrabble life, it’s easy for the viewer to get caught up in the idea of impending doom, and not question the altered reality of the young girl’s mind and perceptions. The film takes you on a journey from home to disaster to exile and home again, transforming the characters and the viewer along the way. We slowly find out what is wrong with Hushpuppy’s sometimes violent father and, though he wasn’t lovable early in the film, he becomes more so, to the point that you’re rooting for him at the end. Pity may be the first emotion to come forth, in light of their poverty, but slowly, carefully, Alibar reveals to us that personally freedom and living a life you have control over can be worth more than a roof over your head.

The scene I liked most was near the end of the film and featured Hushpuppy and three of her young friends arriving at a floating catfish shack that happens to also have live music and dancing girls. The dancing girls are less girl and more old maid and by the end of the scene, each motherless child is held tight by a childless mother. We arrive at this so subtly, that your heart must tell your mind what it sees: people who need love finding an unexpected morsel of it. Alibar noted that this scene was nicknamed “Heaven of Mothers” during filming; through the simple, physical images, so much is healed.

With good film, it’s easy to forget the world and work behind the cinematic voyage you’re carried through.


Beasts of the Southern Wild Comes Home

The story is told very simply and there is much left to the viewer to fill in, something that Alibar takes interest in. During the discussion following the showing, she had few answers for parts of the film that seemed ambiguous and turned the questions back to the askers - what did you think? She considers audience thought and reaction as much a part of the film as the story being told. This isn’t a Hollywood product wrapped in shiny paper for a shiny price; rather, this is the heart of a woman speaking to the world and calling for response, connection, kindreds.

Covey Wraps with The Highwaymen

For more information on the film www.


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Alibar originally wrote the base material as a play that focused on a young boy and was set in South Georgia. “This is what I wrote the movie from,” she explains. “This place is always with you.” Director and friend Benh Zeitlin contacted Alibar with the idea of adapting the play to film and changing the backdrop to New Orleans. None of the actors were professionals, but their performances would rival any Hollywood name. During filming, if a line or scene didn’t feel authentic for the actors, Alibar and her screenwriting partner not he film, Benh Zeitlin, would rewrite it for them. If you haven’t seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, give it a go. And if you liked it, be sure to add some other indie films to your queue. You may have found a new genre to love. - Bunny B.

See You Next Year

Special Edition: Covey Film Festival