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‘Lifelong Friends’ The Mag Film Fest Showcases Local Filmmakers in Golden Triangle, Builds Camaraderie

With a reputation for its filmmaker focus and intimate atmosphere, the Magnolia Independent Film Festival in Starkville, Miss., embarks on its 26th year with a lineup both international and state-specific, along with a welcome that embraces returning alums, fresh voices, emerging creatives and experimental forays.

The festival takes place from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25 this year at UEC Hollywood Premier Cinema (101 Hollywood Blvd., Starkville), with a workshop and panel on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 25, at Hobie’s on Main (217 E. Main St.)—formerly the State Theatre—in downtown Starkville.

“Unpacking,” which Alexandra Clayton and Michal Sinnott directed, follows six women on a transformative quest to Bali. Photo courtesy Magnolia Independent Film Festival

Mississippi’s first and oldest film festival, known as The Mag for short, has come a long way since its initial outing in 1997 in West Point, Miss., when audiences huddled in jackets and under blankets in the cold auditorium of Central School, with only shared enthusiasm and space heaters to warm the room. The festival got its start when Chicago-born poet, journalist, and filmmaker Ron Tibbett moved to West Point in the 1990s and discovered the dearth of outlets in the state.

“He realized there were no film festivals in Mississippi, or even in the surrounding states, really,” Michael Williams, board president for the Magnolia Film Festival, says. Tibbett decided to found one in West Point, where he lived. The event grew from there, moved to Starkville within a few years, and still considers itself the Golden Triangle’s film festival, serving the Columbus-Starkville-West Point area.

“He actually helped start the Tupelo Film Festival and the Oxford Film Festival, and he helped out with the Indie Memphis Film Festival,” Williams says of Tibbett, who died in 2004. “We always try to keep Ron’s legacy as part of the film festival because he was very much a filmmaker lover, and he loved having the audience interaction. So, we always make sure that our festival feels very intimate, very filmmaker-friendly.”

Nate Dorr directed the music video “Algorithmia” using A.I.-generative techniques. Photo courtesy Magnolia Independent Film Festival

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