STARKVILLE — The Magnolia Independent Film Festival will feature filmmakers from Tupelo to Bangladesh, but one Golden Triangle participant will be front and center Friday night.
Michael Williams of West Point returns to the festival for the sixth straight year. Williams won best cinematography for his film, “Lukos,” at last year’s festival.
Williams will debut his latest film, “Illumination,” at the 15th edition of the festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday night at State Theatre in downtown Starkville.
“Illumination,” a story of a family man’s journey toward enlightenment, is inspired by star filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Williams said.
“His films always stuck with me due to his attention to detail, captivating storytelling and ability to create stories with the perfect mixture of heart, wonderment and suspense grounded in reality,” Williams said, “no matter how fantastical the subject matter may be. I have always wanted to make a film with those same qualities. “Illumination” is that film. It was born out of the inspirations of early Steven Spielberg films and my desire to explore the themes of redemption and enlightenment.”
Though the film festival is a competition, Williams said the experience builds bonds between aspiring filmmakers.
“The film industry in Mississippi is made up of a very close-knit group of people,” Williams said. “We’re all friends. We all work together and help each other with our ongoing projects. Just this past weekend, at a festival in Oxford, my film showed alongside two other films that I helped with camera work. You do compare your own work to the others that are shown, but it’s mainly to observe and figure out how you can step up your game. It’s healthy and friendly competition.
“Any awards are just an added benefit.”
Williams first discovered his passion for filmmaking in high school with his church’s youth group in 2004. He then entered the neighboring Tupelo film festival in May 2005 and has been participating in festivals all over the country ever since.
Williams has participated in nearly 30 festivals, but the road hasn’t always been smooth.
“I’ve been rejected a lot,” Williams said. “For this film, I probably submitted it to about 40 different festivals for consideration and was turned down 10 times just this week.”
“It’s also a challenge to make a quality product with limited resources,” he added. “Each movie has its own complexities, and I try to make each film bigger and better than the last.”
Despite the challenges of the industry, Williams encourages young filmmakers to take every opportunity to hone their craft, even if it means working for free.
“Get your name on the Mississippi Film Commission directory, so people will know to contact you when they need your talents,” he advises. “And most importantly, make your own films and enter film festivals. That’s the best way to meet other people in the industry and land other jobs.”
Williams is the owner of Shendopen Productions, a studio in West Point dedicated to photography, video and filmmaking. And while he enjoys the work that he does, Williams hopes to one day to solely focus on cinematography.
“That’s just my job to pay the bills for now,” Williams said of the studio, “but as far as my career goes, one day I hope to be able to work purely in cinematography, and I want to be able to stay here in Mississippi while I do it. The South is really beginning to take off in the film industry. Right now, Louisiana is just as busy as L.A., and Mississippi is only a few years behind.”
Williams had the opportunity last year to work with two popular television shows, “Swamp People,” based in the bayous, marshes and wetlands of Louisiana, and “Full Metal Jousting,” which transforms the collision sport into a modern event. Both shows are on the History Channel.
The Magnolia Film Festival includes four feature-length films in addition to many comedy and dramatic shorts, which range from 30 seconds to half an hour.
Nightly cover charge for the Magnolia Film Festival is $10. Discounted festival passes also are available.