Video Biography Project In Mississippi
Flickr photo: Penny Sanford Porcelains
This past weekend Isabelle and I flew to Northern Mississippi to work with a new client on creating a tribute video biography. It was a really fun, albeit short trip but we managed to cram a lot into two days.
We flew a commercial airline from Houston to Jackson Mississippi on Saturday where our client picked us up in his private plane and flew us another half hour to a smaller airport in the Northern part of the state. Isabelle was a bit nervous about being in such a small (four seater) plane so we strapped her in the backseat and I got to ride in the front. Our client was a very experienced pilot and explained all the instrumentation and flying procedures to me during the short flight. Isabelle breathed a sigh of relief when we landed and said she would be game for the front seat on the return flight.
When we arrived we got right to work. There were several family members in town for our visit and we quickly set up a shoot location in the house, creating a great backdrop, setting up lighting and going over the sequence of interview questions and shooting directions with all of the video participants. We didn’t have as much time to get familiar with our subjects as I normally prefer but that is part of working with people out of town and I have a few techniques for creating relatedness that are useful. We got some great footage and called it a day around 10 PM.
We woke at 7 the next morning and were greeted by a breakfast of famous local sausage and biscuits with hot coffee. I was already humming the lyrics to Bob Wills’ “That’s What I Like About The South” when we jumped in the car and headed north to another small town to interview the family matriarch, passing cotton fields and farms along the way.
Our clients, The Mississippi Family, were part of five generations that had inhabited this corner of the state. Their reach extended to farming, medicine,retail and industrial, as well as politics. As the sons told us, at one point, half the town was related and you couldn’t get away with much without someone seeing you. I found myself seeing a way of life that no longer exists for most of us. A family dynasty where the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids stayed local, carrying out the family name and the family businesses. They were invested in the region and in it’s perpetual growth. But they too were aware that the dynamics were changing. The church now had a new minister and many of the congregants were strangers. Large businesses were leaving and the future of the area was still to be determined. I felt like I was in a modern-day version of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
The family matriarch, at 90, was still living in her own home. She was a bit wary of the process so we quickly went to plan B and involved her daughter-in-law in the interview process with me asking the questions and the daughter-in-law discussing the answers with her. It created a lot more ease and we were able to go through the scripted questions in reasonable time. Her home was built in the early 1950s and still had numerous mementos and photos from many years which allowed us to get some great background shots.
After leaving the mother’s home, we stopped for some fried chicken (naturally, it IS the south!) served with purple-hull peas cooked with ham hocks, biscuits, corn and fried green tomatoes washed down with several glasses of “Coke”. Any carbonated liquid in Mississippi is referred to as a Coke (which is why I loved the photo I’ve included with this blog article.)
After returning to the clients home, we shot one more section of interview footage and then packed the gear, headed to the airport and got back on the little airplane heading back to Jackson. Isabelle rode shotgun that leg and unfortunately for her, the entire trip was in the fog. On the commercial flight back to Houston, I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers”, an excellent book about the dynamics of success. The chapter I happened to be reading is Chapter 7, “The Ethnic History of Plane Crashes” about how cultural roots can pre-determine our susceptibility to repeat behavior patters and he ties those in to certain cultures who had high incidences of plane crashes. It is a really fascinating discussion. Isabelle turned to me and said, “doesn’t that bother you reading about plane crashes while on an airplane?” I hadn’t even thought of the irony of reading that while on a plane!
It was a really great weekend. We learned a lot about our new clients and I am excited about working with them to create a really dynamic family history with such deep southern roots. It continues to reinforce my belief on how important it is that these stories be captured in a way that preserves and communicates the family legacy.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.