By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(July 2004) When I first
planned this column for July, my intent was to focus
on the New England Summer Film Festival circuit and
additionally take a peek at what was coming up in the
fall. Most of my research was done and the article was
about 85% complete. Then, as it always does, fate stepped
in and changed my plans.
What happened was a curve ball that got me to thinking
again about what is most valuable in life and just how
much of a global village we live in. For those of us
in the entertainment industry, it’s a very small
playing field and the longer you stay involved, the
sharper that comes into view.
I received an email this afternoon from a filmmaker
I had never met, but who would be playing her work in
our Festival in August, that a shared contact had just
died. On surface, it is always sad news for anyone to
learn about the death of another. Except, the individual
had become a close friend over the years.
This is all the more remarkable because of the distance
separating us and the fact that the Internet was the
main source of communication.
began as an email query about how one began developing
a film festival had grown into a eight year friendship
which would encompass sharing resources, promotion of
filmmakers we would discover and cross promotion and
partnerships. We had a common vision about the over
1,950 film festivals that existed globally someday being
linked by a trade organization that would address everything
from liability insurance, staff benefits to linked resources.
Ron Tibbett of West Point, Mississippi first contacted
me following our 1997 season when we had just presented
a small-scale event, testing the waters to see what
audience, if any, existed for independent films in the
Ron had read about us in the trades and wrote me asking
if I could answer a few questions on pulling together
a similar event he wanted to start in Mississippi. His
motivation was simple: he had read that his state did
not have a film festival and that was something he wanted
We spoke on the phone for about three hours, bonded,
found we had an enormous amount in common, and shared
similar views on the festival world and the importance
of supporting young talent. We were both acutely aware
of what had helped and hindered our own careers. We
also had low BS barometers and did not suffer fools
In 1998, RIIFF burst upon the festival scene by presenting
the world premiere of a little film by the Farrelly
Brothers called “There’s Something About
Mary.” None of us had any idea how big the film
would be, nor did we appreciate at the time its impact
on our Festival. Lots of lessons were learned from this
experience, not the least being how to deal with egotistical
politicians and unprofessional civil servants running
area film offices. All the razzle dazzle was just so
much PT Barnum and made us open our eyes to where we
wanted to head. Ron was an excellent sounding board
and helped us see the validity of that old cliché:
“Be Careful what you wish for; you might just
As time elapsed, Ron and I shared everything from how
to develop application forms, film selection policies,
host filmmakers, sponsorships, to award programs and
exhibition policies. Ron came to Rhode Island to meet
visiting filmmakers and then all but disappeared during
the actual festival acting as a staffer and helping
us create small miracles and seamlessly realizing our
event. His towering figure belied his sweet and courtly
The Magnolia Film Festival, known affectionately as
The Mag, grew and flourished. Many of our filmmakers
went from RIIFF in August to The Mag in February, staying
as Ron’s guests at condos off a golf course. It
wasn’t long afterwards that Ron was sending filmmakers
our way and we both had dedicated sidebars that showcased
each other’s festival. We also began building
partnerships with other in order to realize that long
held dream of the ultimate collaborative. At last count,
we were up to 15.
So who was Ron Tibbett?
He was more than a founder of a blossoming regional
film festival and its Executive Director. He was a filmmaker
and screenwriter. He was a scholar, soldier and poet.
He was a father and husband.
A Chicago native, Ron studied English literature at
the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago.
An ex-Marine, he moved to West Point Mississippi with
his wife and daughter in 1994, and founded the Magnolia
Independent Film Festival in 1997. The festival moved
from West Point to Starkville three years later.
The event grew each year, and this past year it featured
44 films and 30 filmmakers from around the world.
Ron himself had won several awards for his own films,
including the documentary "Buffalo Common,"
which was screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival
in Park City, Utah and later at RIIFF.
"Buffalo Common," which was shot over three
months in the summer of 2000 and premiered at the 2002
Magnolia Festival. It was "basically about the
implosions of the North Dakota missile silos that were
deactivated in 1999 as part of the SALT treaty with
the Russians signed in 1972," as Ron himself described
The film was named to The Village Voice Film Critics
Poll Top Ten Avant Garde List; and has won Best Experimental
Short Documentary at The New York Underground Film Festival;
Best Short Documentary at The Thaw Film Festival in
Iowa City; The Director's Choice Award at The Crossroads
Film Festival; Honorable Mention at The Long Island
Film Festival; and Honorable Mention at The Worldwide
Short Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Ron said he started the Mississippi festival to feature
films from some of the biggest names in the independent
"This is what has been lost in cinema since Hollywood
took over," Ron said in 1998. "Hollywood doesn't
make a film, they market one. The ending is always happy;
they want you to stop by the drive-through on the way
All too often when we see all of the hoopla and braggadocio
with a festival or for that matter anything in the entertainment
world, we fail to see the human element, only the glossy
Ron was a very human face in what sometimes seems a
faceless industry. I have encountered enough fake plastic
smiles to last me a lifetime. I’ve met individuals
passing as leaders who are lucky they can find their
way to the toilet, even when pointed in the right direction.
And then there are the egos: Funny how those who have
accomplished the least need to feel that they’ve
done the most. I have been fortunate to meet many truly
wonderful people in the festival world. I’ve also
met my fair share of morons and pompous windbags.
I’ve met brats who think that the world revolves
around them. Ron was a breathe of fresh air.
My friend, filmmaker Eva Saks from New York wrote me
this evening about Ron, “That's utterly tragic
and awful. I loved Ron. Everyone loved Ron.”
Writer/director/producer Kathilynn Phillips also wrote
me that “I only knew Ron for a short time and
the first time we ‘met’ was via email.
“That didn't stop him, however, from taking this
unknown, fledgling filmmaker under his wing. It seemed
he loved the art of filmmaking so much that he wanted
to fuel its collective creative soul with as many visionaries
He offered advice when sought, praise when warranted
and consolation when needed. He promoted my work and
that of others who were trying to navigate the tricky,
competitive and often cruel world of filmmaking without
reward and without hesitation.
“And he was a really cool and funny guy to boot!
He made me laugh every time I talked to him. When I
went to Tupelo for the festival, he made feel like I
was at home, like he knew me for years. He was that
sort of guy--whatever your age, wherever you came from
or whomever you didn't know, he made you feel special.
“He was a lover of life, a generator of laughter,
and a friend to all filmmakers.”
Kat also related to me how she owed him a lot for her
“In fact,” she told me, “he told me
recently to forget this one script I was working on
that was giving me fits and to write the comedy I told
It's called ‘Flaming Saddles’. I took his
advice and he's right. It is a ‘hoot’, as
he says, writing it. It was just the medicine I needed.
If it ever sees the light of day, I'll dedicate it to
Ron was a rare soul who had a passion for what he did
and love for the people whose lives he touched. I shall
miss his constant emails and his annual visit to Rhode
Island this summer with his wife Charlotte. I shall
miss sharing stories and passing on to each other work
of artists whose worked left us in awe. I shall miss
hearing of his success at Sundance, his latest video
project, the most recent festival he was helping out,
or about his beloved red Corvette.
This year at RIIFF in August we will raise our glasses
to honor Ron and thank him for a priceless gift: friendship.
Film festival founder Tibbett dies in accident
WEST POINT, Miss. - Ron Tibbett, a filmmaker and founder
of the annual Magnolia Independent Film Festival, has
died in a one-car accident in West Point. Survivors
include his wife, Charlotte, and a daughter, Christine.
Tibbett, 63, founded the film festival shortly after
moving to Mississippi in 1997. The festival's initial
outings were held in West Point until moving to Starkville.
Entries have ranged in length from 3 minutes to two
hours, representing a wide variety of genres.
West Point police said Tibbett was killed Monday when
he apparently lost control of his car and ran off the
road. Clay County Coroner Alvin Carter Jr pronounced
Tibbett dead at the scene.
Police Lt. Danny Catskill said an investigation of the
accident was underway and no other details are being
Tibbett himself had won several awards for his own films,
including the documentary "Buffalo Common,"
which was screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival
(news - web sites) in Park City, Utah.
In addition to his work on "Buffalo Common,"
Tibbett earlier wrote and directed "Swept Off My
Feet," which was shot in The Golden Triangle in
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached