/Blue Magnolia uses film to forge community in Mississippi

Blue Magnolia uses film to forge community in Mississippi

Blue Magnolia Films, a pioneering Mississippi documentary film company, hosts a workshop for founders and staff of International Museum of Muslim Cultures. This workshop focuses on Mississippi’s bright spots and fosters community connection through storytelling. They see the founders’ concise photo documentary as an important part of their goal to elevate the museum from a regional/local presence to a national one. “We have a compelling story to tell and people can relate to it from a human point of view. Emad Al-Turk, museum founder, says that we just need to tell it better. Blue Magnolia Films’ approach focuses on the “why”, helping people craft and tell their stories with purpose and universal resonance. Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today Blue Magnolia Films was established by Chandler Griffin, a Mississippi native and documentary filmmaker, and Alison Fast (Peabody Award-winning filmmaker), in 2013. The project was created for Mississippi’s bicentennial, 2017. It featured short documentary films that highlighted creative projects, many of which were made in small towns throughout the state. This film introduced the subject/authors and also showed how storytelling can be powerful and positive for many. Blue Magnolia Films has conducted about 160 workshops across 24 countries, including in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, helping people to use storytelling to achieve goals in development, health, democracy, and human rights. Griffin states that this is our specialty. Griffin says, “This is our specialty.” We’ve been all over the globe and are very much applying what we know to Mississippi.” Workshops with Volunteer Mississippi showcased stories about service and workshops with Selma (Alabama) highlighted stories of revitalization. Blue Magnolia Films and the Community Foundation for Mississippi are working together on a series of photo documentaries that will explore the reasons people do the work they have, in order to improve the communities in which they live. Jane Alexander, the foundation’s executive director, has been a long-time fan of Blue Magnolia Films work in Mississippi. She was impressed by the workshops’ accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and “extraordinarily personal”. The stories that result connect people in a way numbers and annual reports cannot. Alexander requested Blue Magnolia Films’ iPhone photo/personal narration approach to stories of people less involved in the Community Foundation but whose outstanding work touched tandem chords. “Their commitment to community is something worth lifting up.” These rich, layered narratives tell stories about leaders and risk-takers who sacrificed a part of their lives for something more important like Michael Cormack, Chief of Staff at Jackson Public Schools. Alexander left Barksdale Reading Institute to start his new job. He highlights the potential of the future in his photo story “Excellence for All.” Alexander hopes that he can rekindle a sense of community that was common in her parents’ generation but is less common in today’s times. “What we’ve lost” is the feeling that we share a responsibility to build our own communities and make them better. Photo documentaries by Buddy Faulkner and Robert St. John, Extra Table founder and restaurateur, and Alexander will soon be joined by three more — Sammy Moon, Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy leader, Von Gordon, JPS Partners Education Director Thea Faulkner and Alexander. Alexander plans to host future workshops each year to share constituent stories. Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today Alexander compares “dig deeper” conversations with Fast to the “late-night college conversations that we used to have after a few too many beers at CS’s.” It’s like having the time to think about the “why” of your life and not the “what”. Fast says that it is about going on a journey. Each person will go on a different journey using narrative and photography. Each person has their own touchstones. The intense, organic workshop involves a lot of reflection, mentorship and deep conversation. Over thousands of photos, script revisions, and recordings, Fast reveals the core of each individual’s story, involvement, hopes, and purpose. We help people connect their stories to the places they live and to those they serve. Fast says that it is more than just telling stories. It’s about putting your stories in the service of your community and the values you want to grow. The documentary’s final version features stories told in the author’s own voice over many photographs taken often by the same person. It connects viewers in meaningful ways, human-to-human. Fast says stories emerge from the inside out. This is especially important in Mississippi where stories are often misrepresented or underrepresented. Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today Report For America In a time where Muslims are being attacked around the world and false narratives abound in the media, “Our work has never been more important” says Al-Turk, International Museum of Muslim Culture. “Our faith guides our work in a respectful manner… to present facts about our faith and to educate the American public about Islam. The museum’s exhibit “Muslims With Christians & Jews: Covenants and Coexistence” will travel nationally to share commonalities between faith traditions and build bridges of understanding. Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today Fast states, “Tell the stories you want more of.” People can become stuck in a narrative or naysaying about what isn’t working. “There is always a story about what works, and we must tell it, make it visible if we want to hear more of that story. The best people to tell this story, those who can authenticate and can speak it, are the ones living it.”