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Academy Awards in Southwest GA

Celebrating Film Southern Style was really the headliner this Labor Day weekend as the second annual Jokara- Micheaux Film Festival got underway here in Southwest Georgia August 31-September 2.

Ralph Wilcox, the Southwest Georgia Film Commission director and founder of the Jokara-Micheaux Film Festival, is making good on his promise of using the film and television industry as a vehicle for economic development. One way to achieve this goal is to attract productions companies and industry professionals to the region by giving them a glimpse of all of the wonderful locations and attractions here in Southwest Georgia.

It happened this weekend as many came to see for themselves: producers, directors, filmmakers, writers, editors, and more. They all converged in Miller and Early counties and were given an insight of a lifetime. Many of the guests stayed at the beautiful Tarrer Inn and Kimbrel-Bush House here in Colquitt, and others enjoyed the wonderful Quail Country Lodge in Early County while many made their way to the Jameson Inn.

"The Southwest Georgia Film Commission Office has a regional mission of economic development," said Ralph Wilcox. This year the epicenter of the festival was held in Blakely. The Southwest Georgia Film Commission and HennyPenny Video/Television Production Company, Inc., joined forces with Early County 2055, to host this year's festivities. In a joint statement, Barton Rice, Jr., executive director for Early County 2055 and Ralph Wilcox said, "Early and Miller County are working together to strengthen the economic vitality of these two areas, among the other counties in Southwest Georgia."

The opening ceremonies and breakfast were held at the First United Methodist Church in Blakely. The group enjoyed an exquisite "Southern-Style Breakfast." Speakers were Butch Wiggins, president of Bank of Early; Veryl Garland Cockey, president of the Colquitt-Miller County Chamber of Commerce; Barton Rice Jr. and Ralph Wilcox. An orientation was held in which Wilcox shared the beauty of the region and the regional mission with those in attendance. The day consisted of film screenings which were held at the Blakely-Cineplex. "The First of May" was among the many projects shown. This project was directed by Florida State Film Commissioner Paul Sirmons, who was also in attendance for the festivities.

Workshops and symposiums were held to inform and inspire those who are already in the industry or those with an interest in finding a career in the business. Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of Movie Guide and president of The Christian Film and Television Commission, presented a two-day workshop addressing "The Market for Faith-Based Films." The workshop was held at the First Baptist Church of Blakely. Many were interested in the "History of Film and Film Production in the South," so Camille Holder-Brown, who is a filmmaker out of New York City, did a wonderful job presenting and answering questions. St. Claire Bourne, an award-winning director out of New York and writer for Showtime, PBS, and HBO, conducted a workshop for those interested in "Documentary Films." Other workshop topics addressed distribution, production services, and training of actors, producers, directors, and writers.

The evening culminated with a Meet and Greet Reception at the beautiful home of Lisa Collins, project manager for Early County 2055. Gathered under beautiful well-lit tents were celebrities, industry professionals, sponsors, and press. The evening consisted of light hors d'ouvres, extraordinary entertainment, and great fellowship.

Guests found themselves up bright and early Saturday morning en route to more workshops, film screenings, and a huge block party on the court square of Early County. Festival-goers had a multitude of events from which to choose such as the screenings, workshops, a bed race, Do-Dah Children's Parade, Hot Dog Eating Contest, food vendors galore, a Cotton and Peanut Exhibit, and a "Dream Big Unveiling." During the Dream Big Unveiling, Mr. Charles Rice and son Barton revealed the amount of financial community support and grants that had been pledged to their effort and endeavor in revitalizing Early County in the tune of approximately $5 million dollars. A great sight to see was a refurbished truck that was sporting the EC2055 logo as it was driven around the town square.

Live entertainment was provided by the renowned country group, Sawyer Brown, and also by Ronnie Robbins and the Legends. It is estimated that approximately 6000 attendees were present.

After having a wonderful and full day at all of the venues in Blakely, the guests were given time to refreshen and prepare for the Jokara- Micheaux Film Festival Dinner Gala which was held at the Jokara-Micheaux Production Studio located in the Miller County Industrial Park in Colquitt.

Guests in Colquitt were transported to the studio by limousine and stepped out onto a red carpet walkway. As they entered the reception area, they were greeted by employees and students of HennyPenny Video/Television Production Company and escorted to their respective tables. Seated at tables of red and white floral centerpieces accented with a filmreels and filmstrips, the guests were in for a great "Hollywood come to Southwest Georgia" starstudded night. The soundstage had been transformed into a Hollywood, Oscar Award Extravaganza.

After a few minutes of meeting and greeting, the hosts took the stage: Hollywood actress Diane Sellers and Dennis Johnson, former Hollywood executive producer for NBC, ABC, CBS, HBO, and Showtime, and both friends of Ralph Wilcox.

The welcome was given, and Brenda Cheatem, who is the vice-president of Jokara- Micheaux Production Studio, recognized the celebrity guests and offered a multitude of thanks to the festival's Big Picture Sponsors: The Ruth T. Jinks Foundation and The Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation. Among the numerous speakers were Congressman Sanford Bishop of the Second Congressional District; Representative Gerald Greene, 149th District of Georgia; Dr. Tonea Stewart, actress and director of Theater Arts at Alabama State University; Ken and Susan Wales, the producer of the movie "Amazing Grace" and executive producer of Movie Guide Awards 15th Annual Celebration; George Andrews, CEO/ president of Capitol City Bank & Trust Company; Kathy Barber, for Florida State Film School, and Jonathan and Debra Flora, writer, director, and lead actress of "A Distant Thunder."

One of the highlights of the evening was a pivotal speech given by Mr. James McEachin, a Silver Star and Purple Heart veteran, author, and actor. Mr. McEachin was the first African American to have his own television series, "Tenafly,"as a police detective. He also played Lt. Brock on "Perry Mason." Words can not surmise the speech given by this great veteran/actor. In the words of Billy Roland, president of Golden Triangle RC& D and one of the staunch supporters of Wilcox's vision, "I was spellbound, absolutely spellbound." McEachin did a dramatization which parallels the battle and struggles of all stations in life, whether it is theater warfare, business warfare, family warfare, or spiritual warfare. The perspective is always the agony of the battle, defeat and victory. The 75-year-old McEachin was given a standing ovation by the approximately 400 people in attendance.

Barton Rice Jr. stood on stage sharing his vision for Early County 2055 in their 50 year revitalization plan. He, once again, validated his support of Wilcox's vision and goal which is also a plan of economic empowerment for the Southwest Georgia region using the film and television industry. Wilcox followed Rice by saying, "We are all tied together by a single garment of destiny." Both Wilcox and Rice agree that indeed to be successful in these endeavors, economic development must be a regional effort that includes all of southwest Georgia.

An awards ceremony was held which recognized the winning filmmakers who submitted projects to be screened during the festival. "It was quite an honor to have Clyde and Joy Jinks and Barton Rice, Jr. present on stage, along with Howard Small, chairman of the Miller County Development Authority; George Andrews, CEO/president of Capitol City Bank; and others for these awards presentations."

Taking top honors in the Jokara-Micheaux Video Film Festival Awards 2007 were the following projects:

Highest Achievement for Theatrical Picture Release: "Drawing Angels" (Craig T. Williams and Rosalind Coleman-Williams, producer/ director of New York)

Family Feature: "First of May" by Paul Sirmons and Gary Rogers, directors/producers from Orlando, Florida.

Writer: "Waiting by Yuri Shapochka" (Birmingham, AL, originally from Ukraine)

A Short: "Rundown" (Bradley Hawkins and Patrick Alexander: producers/directors from Florida State University of Tallahassee, Florida)

New Filmmaker: "Life Isn't Fair" (Darrell Makarel Lawrence: producer, director, writer of Philadelphia, PA)

Drama: "A Distant Thunder" (Jonathan Flora and Lead Actress Debra Flora of Burkbank, CA)

Inspirational Short: "Faith" by Lorin B. Coleman (Hollywood, CA) writer, producer, director.

Entertainment was provided by the gifted Will Wiley of Blakely, who did a tremendous job singing "Amazing Grace" and "God Bless the U.S.A." It was amazing that as Will sang, he did not realize that the producer of the movie "Amazing Grace" was sitting in the audience. It was one of those nights. Faye Raye, recording artist who performed at last year's festival, was back by popular demand. Saxophonist Vince Hollis, also one of last year's guests, graced the audience as he joined P&W Trio of Albany. This group features Paul Montgomery, one of the Five Original Blind Boys of Alabama. They did a number of selections with various genres, jazz, R & B, and gospel.

The food was catered by Take One Catering, a subsidiary of Big Mama's Place in Blakley. This is a company that just purchased a stateof the arts film production catering truck to support the vision that Ralph Wilcox has brought into the region. Catering support was also given by Rowena Jackson's Catering Services of Albany. It is interesting to note that another business that has sprung up to support the movie industry is Beverly Safier, costume designer and CEO of Movie Rags Company, which has relocated in Blakely. In the audience was also great stuntman, director, actor, producer Kim Kahana. Kahana held a stunt exhibition in Early County Saturday.

The festival culminated Sunday, September 2, 2007, with a closing breakfast in Blakely, at Funny Girl Restaurant.

Wilcox has continuously said, "There is enough room at the table for anyone who wants to roll the dice on a vision that has become a reality. On behalf of the Southwest Georgia Film Office, Early County 2055, and HennyPenny Video/Television Production Company, Inc., thank you for the support and prayers. See you next year," and as Wilcox keeps saying, "Don't be at the airport when your ship comes in. We must live our lives by believing in something, not by debating many things. A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is now what ships are built for. By his grace, let's get it done."

To see photos from the event, please click here.