Watch from your car or your couch: Magnolia Film Festival offers drive-in and virtual event

Heather Warren and Sean Dyess, co-hosts of the 2020 Magnolia Independent Film Festival, speak with Hannah Vandenberg about the festival.

Film fans of all kinds will be flocking to the the Mississippi Horse Park this weekend for the 24th annual Magnolia Independent Film Festival. "The Mag," as it is affectionally called, is Mississippi's first and longest running film festival.

While normally hosted at a local theater in Starkville, this year's event will be a drive-in and virtual experience to comply with pandemic social distancing guidelines. Featuring over 40 films and several workshops and panels, the virtual event spans from Thursday through Saturday. The drive-in portion of the event is on Saturday night with two screenings, one at 6:00 p.m. and one at 10:45 p.m.

Bailey Berry, festival director and recent Mississippi State University graduate, said they had to find new ways to host the film festival that would maintain their values but also promote public health.

"We have this legacy. We're known for our hospitality, and we're known for bringing creativity to the Golden Triangle community. And that's something we wanted to continue, even though we're in the middle of the pandemic," Berry said.

Normally the festival involves a lot of personal interaction, as one of its goals is to allow filmmakers and fans to network and build community. This year however, they had to do without some of that for the show to go on.

An unforeseen positive that has come out of the alternative arrangements for this year's film festival is the new clientele that will be able to attend.

"What I think is really interesting about this year is that anyone and everyone can experience it; there are no boundaries. So if you are unable to leave your house, you can watch it on your couch in in the living room, and if you don't want to expose yourself, you can stay in your car at the drive-in," Berry said.

Over 340 films were submitted to the Mag this year, and Berry and her programming director screened them all, eventually choosing the final 42 that are on the official docket this year. No two films are similar, Berry said, and are all masterpieces in their own right.

One of the feature films of the festival, titled "How to Stop a Recurring Dream," features actress Ruby Parker as the main character, now known for her role as Marina Thompson in the Netflix original "Bridgerton." Berry said they selected the film in December before "Bridgerton" came out.

Another film that stands out to Berry is "Dear Future Me," a short film about high school seniors reading letters they wrote to themselves as middle schoolers.

Of particular interest to the MSU community is the short film "Five Minutes," which was entirely written, directed, produced and starred in by MSU students.

Jon Tackett, a senior communication major and one of the student creators behind "Five Minutes," said he was immensely grateful for the opportunities the Mag gives to him and other amateur filmmakers.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity especially for Mississippi filmmakers in general, kids without a budget, college students going out to make films — they give chances for that. If the quality is there, the Magnolia Film Fest, they won't overlook it. They'll give you the time of day and get you out there a little bit, so I'm beyond grateful for them," Tackett said.

The short film, a "chaotic comedy," is about a gamer who is about to go on a date, but in the five minutes before the date, everything goes wrong.

Tackett said students should come see the film because of its relatable content and simply as a way to get out of the house.

"Honestly to God, literally something to do in the middle of when there's nothing to do, and I think that's a big selling point for it," Tackett said.

The drive-in portion of the film festival will feature food trucks, including Riley J's Streatery, Deja Brew coffee and Get Rolled ice cream, as well as the Pop Porium. 

Tackett, who plans to pursue a life in the filmmaking industry, said he thinks filmmakers are often under-appreciated, and the Mag is a refreshing outlet of recognition.

"It's really neat to see yourself and the people you worked hard on a film with get the credit they deserve on the big screen. I think that's fantastic. In my opinion, in filmmaking, the people behind the camera don't get enough credit, so I'm excited to see them get their due," Tackett said.

Madeline Emery, a senior kinesiology student, plants to attend the festival. A first-time attendee, Emery said she was excited to go to the drive-in portion with a friend.

"I think people underestimate Mississippi. It has a lot of art and culture and music, and people kind of forget about that. Especially in Starkville, you just think of Mississippi State and football," Emery said.

The festival will also feature a women in film panel, a panel on the state of the Mississippi film industry, a screenplay-writing workshop and an exclusive acting workshop hosted by Lance Nichols, an actor known for his work in "Treme," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Chosen," and "West Wing" and others.

Tickets are $30 per car for the drive-in, $10 per car for the late-night drive in, $25 for the virtual experience and $40 for the virtual VIP experience. More information about the schedule and film lineup can be found on their website.

"I just hope that people will come out and support the local arts and Mississippi film in general, especially during this time of COVID. Anyone and everyone's support is definitely appreciated," festival director Berry said. "It has been a rough year for the arts industry and the film industry, so I just hope that people can come out and support these filmmakers and support the Mag and support Mississippi."

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