History of the Tupelo Film Festival

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 the Ron Tibbett Award for the “Best of Show” film.

In addition to the Ron Tibbett Award in 2011 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 more awards added in 2014. First was the Casey Spradling Award given for the best Mississippi High School film selected by the audience.  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.  Second 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 with cancer and we 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.

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.

The Mississippi High School Film Competition became a part of the film festival in 2014. The competition is partially sponsored by the Tupelo Film Festival Society, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, the Elaine Dundy and Roy Turner Endowment for the Arts, and the the Casey Spradling Memorial Fund. Awards and matching cash prizes are provided to both school sponsors and the winning student filmmakers, encouraging students to continue the art of filmmaking.

The festival continues to work 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.

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