2015 Tupelo Film Festival Judges

The 2015 Tupelo Film Festival will be held Thursday, April 16 – Saturday, April 18, 2015.  We are happy to bring to you excellent films as well as some additional surprise screenings that will take place over the three day period.  We are grateful to our judges for all the time and effort they give and have given to the festival.  We have some of our alumni judges back as well as new judges that have joined the team.  Thanks you judges for your support of the Tupelo Film Festival!



Ridgeland, MS

Benton started Red Planet Entertainment, LLC in 1980 and GhostRider Entertainment in 2007.  His is the founder of the Sun & Sand Film & Music Festival.  Benton produced his first film, Rites of Spring in 2010.  Benton worked as Motion Capture Producer or Motion Capture Supervisor on such feature films as I Am Legend, The Incredible Hulk, Mummy III, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Polar Express, and The Day After Tomorrow.  He is currently working on several films to be produced in Mississippi.


Los Angeles, CAJeremy Nocon Photo (4)

Jeremy Nocon, a seasoned producer from Los Angeles, develops and produces film & TV projects. Jeremy credits his formal legal training and his love of the creative collaboration process for his flourishing career in the entertainment industry. He currently works as Vice President of Business Development for the world-famous Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, a division of The Jim Henson Company, developing projects with some of the top names in the entertainment industry.






New York, NY

Bill Kavanagh is an independent producer/director based in New York. Currently he is in production on “The Divide: One City’s Story.” More information at http://www.der.org/donate/#divide.  His documentary film, “A Matter of Place,” highlights three stories of people who faced housing discrimination in present-day New York City, as well as their resolve to fight for justice. The film shines a bright light on housing discrimination, one of America’s most shrouded civil rights issues. His other work includes the award-winning documentary “Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story” (2007 Tupelo Film Festival premiere and “Enemies pf War” (Independent Lens-PBS), as well as collaborations on other documentaries and independent films. He has a special place in his heart for Tupelo and the filmmaker-friendly nature of Tupelo Film Festival.


MICHAEL SWANSONMichael Swanson-2015

Los Angeles, CA

Michael Swanson is an Emmy Award winning film producer and the studio production executive for Universal Television’s Parks and Recreation, Community, Maury Povich, Food Fighters and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Mr. Swanson has produced features, documentaries, shorts and commercials to critical and audience acclaim through his film company, Faith Filmworks. Some of Mr. Swanson’s productions include All About Us, filmed in Clarksdale, Mississippi; All About You; Two Seasons; Andraé Crouch: Making of The Journey; To Hell and Back and documentary film The Wayman Tisdale Story, for which he won the Emmy. Mr. Swanson did graduate work in Princeton Theological Seminary’s Master of Divinity program and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and Television from the University of Notre Dame. A Chicago native, Mr. Swanson resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Christine, and their four children.




Boston, Mass/Los Angeles, CA/Clarksdale, MSLaura in P-Town

Laura Bernieri is a partner in MS Fried Alligator Entertainment whose first film, Mother of George, was selected for Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2013 and won Best Cinematography. She co-executive produced Sunny Side Up (Parker Posey, Jacksonville Film Fest ’11 Audience Award,) co-directed & produced Delta Rising: A Blues Documentary  (Morgan Freeman, Willie Nelson; Best Producer Award Beverly Hills FF ’09.) At NBA All Stars 2010, a short she directed with Satch Sanders, Kareem, Jerry West received a standing ovation. Executive producer of Kettle of Fish (Mathew Modine, Gina Gershon Tribeca ’06), Could Be Worse!. (Sundance ‘00), Passage to Paradise starring Julie Harris with Cristaldi Films (Cinema Paradiso), Bernieri co-produced Next Stop Wonderland  (Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman) Sundance ‘98; Squeeze (Spirit Award Nominee ‘96), The Darien Gap (Sundance ‘96) and Death: A Love Story (Sundance ‘99), Laura founded the Harvard Square Scriptwriters collaborative and has moderated panels with Norman Mailer, Michael Cunningham, Russell Banks, Dennis Lehane, James Schamus, and Pamela Gray.




Kathilynn Phillips, born in Mississippi and now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, is a filmmaker whose award-winning works, including her feature film, “Chasing the White Dragon”, have screened to thousands in the U.S., Europe and Asian Pacific. A former President and Board member of Women in Film and Television Atlanta, Kat is also Entertainment Industry Group Leader for the Ritz Group/Capital Community located in Atlanta. Interested in the growth of our young filmmakers, in 2014 at the Tupelo Film Festival, Kat and her husband Eric, made a generous donation of camera equipment to the Itawamba Community College’s Film Club in Fulton, MS which led to the development of film courses. Kat is truly a leader and mentor in the film industry.





Chicago, ILGenaEllisthisone

For Gena, it all begins with the written word. She wrote and co-produced Tupelo’s 2007 Ron Tibbett Best of Show winner, ANGELA’S DECISION, which also won Australia’s Gold ACE Award for cinematography, Houston’s Gold Remi for adaptation, and other awards, and studied at universities. Gena’s given workshops on adaptation, writing, Indie films, and taught at universities, prompting her to publish an eBook in 2015- with an AD early draft, the short story, TV pilot pages, and the story of becoming an Australian film. While Gena has even been on screen in TV shows SHAMELESS and CHICAGO FIRE, plus films TRANSFORMERS 3 and the Bollywood hit, DHOOM 3, her favorite sets are those of her daughter, Ursula, who’s in the MFA directing program at Columbia in NYC. Gena was recently in MERMAIDS, a Northwestern University NUWFA grant film by Nina Rogers. Gena really understands the ‘magic’ that film students create with hard work and a low budget. She’s of course working on a script and a another book. Visit Genaingeneral.com or Browndotproductions.com for more info.


Los Angeles, CABanner

Banner Gwin, a native Memphian, is a director and feature film editor currently based in Los Angeles. As director, his work has been acquired by the permanent collection of The Museum Of Modern Art in NY, and the LACMA has honored him as one of seven Best Young Directors in Los Angeles. As editor, he recently completed the Boston-based crime drama God Only Knows staring Harvey Keitel, and has functioned as assistant editor on many films such as Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless, and the soon to be released Child 44 produced by Ridley Scott and Triple Nine directed by John Hillcoat.” .



Greenville, MS

Steve Azar1Steve Azar is a modern day Renaissance man, hit songwriter, recording artist, music producer, golfer and philanthropist. Steve calls his own breed of music “Delta Soul,” a mixture of country, rock and blues. His debut album “Waitin’ On Joe” was released in 2001. The title track went to #1 on CMT and featured Academy award winning actor Morgan Freeman. From the same album the hit single “I Don’t Have To Be Me Til Monday” received three Million-Air awards from BMI and is one of the top five most played songs of the past decade on country radio. Turn on the radio today and you’ll likely hear it. Taylor Swift told People Magazine in 2010 that her favorite song of the year was Steve Azar’s “Sunshine, Slide On Over Here,” which was spotlighted in Oprah’s O Magazine in her Top Things to Buy at Christmas in 2011. “Sunshine” was also featured in US Weekly Magazine in June 2012 as one of the most popular celebrity wedding songs and was #1 video on Great American Country TV! Steve has written and recorded songs for film and worked in the role of music supervisor. “Doin’ It Right” (Delta Mix) from the latest release “Delta Soul: Volume One,” was the feature track for Sony Pictures 2013 movie Here Comes The Boom starring Kevin James and Selma Hayek. Reba McEntire among many others has cut his songs. In 2007, Azar was personally chosen by Bob Seger to perform 46 shows on what was rated the #1 Tour in America by Pollstar Magazine. Steve currently wrote and recorded the official song for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships “Fly” and “Fly” is the feature track in the upcoming Sony Pictures Paul Blart Mall Cop 2. He co-founded Ride Records.

JERRY PHILLIPSJerry Phillips 3-14-140001

Iuka, MS

Jerry Phillips, son of legendary Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and VP of Sam Phillips Recording studios in Memphis, is a record producer, recording engineer, songwriter and musician. He is president and co-owner of Big River Broadcasting in Florence/Muscle Shoals, AL, and president and co-owner of Gold Coast Broadcasting in Clifton,TN, as well as vice president of numerous music publishing companies. Jerry has worked with such notable talents as Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Prine, Billy Lee Riley and many more. Jerry is also Executive Producer of the world wide radio and internet  program ” Muscle Shoals To Music Row Live”  heard on WXFL 96.1 and watched at MS2MR.Com.















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