Festival History – Where It All Began

Ron Tibbett

Poet, journalist, filmmaker, Ron Tibbett on site in South Dakota for the shooting of his award-winning documentary, “Buffalo Common”

In the early part of 2003, filmmaker Ron Tibbett, the founder of the Magnolia Film Festival, met with Tupelo Film Festival Director Pat Rasberry and the film commission committee to discuss the opportunity for a film festival in Tupelo, MS. After many conversations and several meetings the first Tupelo Film Festival was launched in May of 2004. The festival was a one-and-a-half-day event screening around twenty 20 independent films. After the awards presentation  ended, filmmakers, committee members and special guests gathered at one of the committee member’s homes to celebrate the conclusion of the festival. It was a great night filled with conversation, networking and making plans for the next year’s film festival. A few weeks after the festival, a car accident claimed Ron’s life. It was a sad day throughout the state of Mississippi as Ron was an award-winning filmmaker, tireless festival contributor and a great friend that many had come to know and love. His passion for film and film development, encouragement to those in the industry and presence would be missed.

Because the festival was a new venture, the question came – Do we continue?

Indeed we did . . . honoring Ron at each festival from that point with “Best of Show” award.

In addition to the Ron Tibbett Award we added the Elvin Whitesides Best Director’s Award in memory of one of our judges who was originally from Tupelo and went on to become a filmmaker, producer, director and musician. In 2010 Elvin passed away unexpectedly,  His award is sponsored by Elvin’s classmates – Tupelo High School Class of ’72.  Two awards added last year was the Casey Spradling Mississippi High School Student Award.  Casey was a special friend of the festival and eager to learn all aspects of filmmaking.  He passed away while helping to film a movie in Jackson, MS and he will be greatly missed.  The Robert Reed Best Documentary Award, sponsored by Reed’s Department Store, is in memory of a great friend and previous board member.  Robert passed away last year with cancer and we will miss his humor, dedication, and friendship. These awards demonstrate our thanks to four remarkable people who not only were our friends, but exhibited their love for film and were committed to the festival.  We also want to recognize a wonderful volunteer who passed away last year, Mr. Lawrence Stanley, in which he and his wife gave countless hours to the festival.  He was a very special person and friend of the festival.

Over the course of time, and with the help of festival partners we have continued to build a reputable festival.  In 2010 the Tupelo Film Festival was recognized by livability.com as number five in the top ten small film festivals in the country.  The festival has grown over the years and for ten years we partnered with the historic Lyric Theatre in Downtown Tupelo where the festival was held but transitioned to the Malco Theatre (Tupelo Commons) in 2011 where we began our new journey with our wonderful new sponsor, the Malco! Films will begin on Thursday and will continue throughout the three-day event into Saturday.  In addition to special events their will be workshops, storytelling, and the MS High School Film competition.  We will also screen winning films from the past twelve years honoring those filmmakers and who will share their stories of where they were then and where they are now.  Plans continue to develop each day and serendipity moments continue to pop up that will offer a great beginning to a great location in Tupelo!  Make plans to attend the festival and join us in celebrating the art of filmmaking!

The MS High School Film Competition is partially sponsored by the Tupelo Film Festival Society, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film and the Elaine Dundy and Roy Turner Endowment for the Arts. Awards and matching cash prizes are provided to both school sponsors and the winning student filmmakers encouraging students to continue the art of filmmaking.  For the third year Watkins College of Art, Design & Film came is offering a $1,000 sponsorship along with a $12,000, $8,000 and $4,000 scholarship going to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners of the high school competition.  The scholarships are pending students choose Watkins.  Watkins is an excellent college out of Nashville, TN that specializes in specific genres of the arts.

The festival committee works diligently each year providing filmmakers and audiences a unique experience in which one can embrace, and feel embraced, by the true southern hospitality of Tupelo and Mississippi.

We are grateful to all of our generous sponsors, devoted advisory committee, dedicated screening panels, volunteers and, of course, our gracious partner, the Malco Theatre.  Efforts are continually focused on making the festival the best it can be!

We salute Filmmakers and appreciate the sacrifices they make as they create independent film and move their stories from script to screen.

For those of you who enjoy watching independent film, come join us and support filmmakers and their art through film. In doing so you will experience our world-famous hospitality and an opportunity to see excellent films!

Thanks for stopping by!

Pat

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