Jackson Emerging | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jackson Emerging

As I walked through the parking lot in front of the Mississippi Museum of Art on a cold, wet Monday morning, it was hard at first to visualize the same space as a vibrant garden with water fountains, blooming flowers, free Wi-Fi and laughing babies just a few months from now. Construction workers arrived in pickup trucks continue building the structures that will contain The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

A polite young woman working for the construction company let me into the museum for an early morning meeting with Betsy Bradley, director of the museum. I was a little early and got to wander through the Orient Expressed Exhibit and realized it was so much more than I had imagined. Besides the gorgeous, large paintings and the delicate glassware, I discovered an anime corner with graphic novels to pick up and compare to classic Japanese prints.

I ambled alone around the quiet exhibit, remembering all those books I had read and documentaries I had seen about how Japanese art influenced Europe and the United States in the 19th century. I leaned in to read some details when I heard Bradley's heels echoing. I almost got lost in the maze of gallery walls trying to find her.

In the boardroom, she showed me a presentation with the impressive plans for The Art Garden scheduled to open this August. The proposed activities for the museum's "front yard" include after-work get-togethers, music concerts and family lunches. One great idea is to use inflatable screens for outdoor movies. For future Crossroads Film Festivals, Bradley expects at least one screening, if not more, at the museum.

Crossroads, like the museum, seemed to me just a year ago like a breathing institution caged inside the Malco Grandview Theatre in Madison. The truth is that the festival spreads beyond the workshops and screenings in Madison with events at Jackson restaurants and a children's workshop at MMA, right smack downtown.

The three-day festival includes dozens upon dozens of films, at least 50 filmmakers, about a dozen workshops, receptions, awards and parties. Short documentaries, feature-length movies and music videos fill the schedule. In between film blocks, festival-goers can take in excerpts from two Mississippi programs about regional music, the Hattiesburg-produced "Green Couch Sessions" and Oxford's "Music in the Hall."

Festival-goers can attend workshops on cinematography, simulated worlds, acting, music videos and the business of the movie-making business.

Herman Snell, the former Jackson Free Press music editor, died last year, far too soon. He was a big part of Crossroads' creation, evolution and success. This year's festival is dedicated to him, and a new tradition begins with one film chosen as "Herman's Pick," the name of his JFP music column. Any film involving time travel, alternate realities or ambiguity is eligible to win. Essentially, it has to have one of those "fatal flaws."

"If a movie contains any of these elements, I am going to like the movie based on concept alone. That's why I call them fatal flaws," Snell once said.

It's a lot to take in, all the things that Crossroads offers. And it's been a lot to plan and organize for Michele Baker, coordinator of the festival and its only paid employee.

Overseeing the logistics, mailing out sponsor packets and getting photographs to newspapers keeps her hopping. She even worked to get a sneak-peak screening of an excerpt from "The Help," the movie shot partly in Fondren as well as other parts of Mississippi.

"The distributor said no," she said with a frown, leaning back in a folding chair 
at Malco during a media event to promote the festival.

"The Help," based on the 2009 best seller by Kathryn Stockett, took advantage of film incentives Mississippi offers producers and studios. The biggest incentive is a direct cash rebate of 25 percent for local spending and non-resident payroll with an additional 5 percent for employing Mississippi residents. Filmmakers have to spend at least $50,000 in the state, and rebates are capped at $8 million per project and at $20 million each year.

Not only does this incentive give our state on-screen time in Hollywood productions as well as independent films, it gives folks who want to work in the film industry jobs and meaningful experience. Crews need the education and the experience to get 
these jobs.

Jay Woods, acting executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, says he knows where independent filmmakers and crews can get that experience. Maybe. As MPB looks at producing more programs for other state agencies, they will need freelance talent. With only four cameramen and two producers--not to mention more potential budget cuts--the staff can only do so many films, public service announcements and specials before they need outside help.

"We have to hire freelancers," Woods told me during a recent interview.

"We use them as much as we can afford them. The more work we get, the more can hire freelancers."

I used to come to Jackson frequently as a teenager for debate tournaments, Youth Congress sessions and to watch the University of Southern Mississippi beat Ole Miss in football. Then, as an adult, I only came to drab government offices in stark fascist-style architectural structures.

I had forgotten the side streets, the pretty college campuses, the shaded neighborhoods and the smart, open-minded people who made things happen in my state.

It's great to know the Mississippi Museum of Art will spill over into a garden, to watch the Crossroads Film Festival run over into much of the metro area and to hear Mississippi Public Broadcasting plan to use Mississippi filmmakers. It's as if Jackson came out of hibernation, and I've arrived for the spring. I just want to hug all of you.

Valerie Wells is the new assistant editor of the Jackson Free Press and BOOM Jackson. She lives in Jackson and Hattiesburg. Email her at {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}.

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