Steeped in literary tradition, University of Mississippi and Oxford look to support visual storytelling and independent movie making with a cinema minor and a fast growing film community.
Like digital filmmaking, the cinema minor is steadily making its mark on campus as one of the largest and quickest growing minors.
Long gone are the days of the clicks and cranks of cameras and editing machines.
Instead the new visual storyteller is liberated by digital cameras and laptops. With just a great story and these relatively low-cost tools, international film festivals have seen new and diverse stories emerging, and the same situation is occurring on the UM campus.
This budding minor seems to have already found its legs.
“I’m seeing voices coming from all cultures of Mississippi,” said Alan Arrivée, theatre professor and director of the cinema minor.
He describes much of the student work as realistic in process, but possibly with a Southern Gothic influence or biblical references. Some emerging stories are “things that cut against the grain of the culture.”
As part of this program, the university has the UM Cinema Competition where students apply and submit proposals for monetary awards to help realize what they envision.
Students submit scripts, storyboards and budgets among other things in categories of narrative, musical, dance and documentary.
The best of these works are then showcased in the spring in “An Evening of Cinema” in Meek Auditorium.
This year the showcase will take place April 4-7 and there will be an A and B program so each work screens twice. This alteration is in response to a packed house and sold out shows last year.
The minor is an opportunity to complement many majors on campus.
Faculty teaching for cinema also teach English, history, theatre, southern studies, religious studies and gender studies. The curriculum is well rounded as students learn critique and analysis as well as hands-on applications in scriptwriting, cinematography and all aspects of the production process.
Arrivée said he sees excitement and groups forming to produce works, similar to what one would see in any film school. He sees that energy and excitement transfer to students who “do best when they don’t see (the project) as an assignment.”
“I want this to be empowering,” he said.
Most kids would be afraid of watching horror films in the dark at 6 years old, but they form part of an early memory for English major Mack-Arthur Turner Jr.
Growing up, he and his family shared movie watching experiences with western, drama and actions genres.
In his first semester at UM, Turner took a film studies class where he put critical analysis and vocabulary to all those years of being a movie fan.
That same year, the cinema minor started and Turner began exploring visual storytelling as well as majoring in English.
Turner hopes that more students explore classes in the minor and that classes reflect the diversity on campus and not continue have film making only look to male-dominated Hollywood.
He feels Mississippi stories can compete on an international level.
“We should use the Mississippi experience to connect to the world,” he said. “It’s possible to connect with people in Belize or parts of Africa or Ecuador, especially with subjects of poverty, or health and social issues, it resonates with them.”
Besides the minor and Oxford Film Festival adding to the culture, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council Film Endowment has been created which Arrivée describes as a “Junior Austin Film Society.”
The council hopes to support the budding film culture in Oxford, set up educational opportunities and attract filmmakers to the region.
Arrivée sees students staying in Oxford to make films after graduation. The Film Council will have an editing bay and equipment cage that will help complement what is available to cinema minors.
So as the independent film scene opens up to more people, it’s never been a better time for UM students to tell their stories and attempt to create the great American film.