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The Monthly Column on Film and Media Arts
for the New England Entertainment Digest

By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive Director/CEO

(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.

What 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 Ocean State.

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 to correct.

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 well.

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 get it.”

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 nature.

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 it.

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 film industry.

"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 home."

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 sheen.

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 as possible.

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 current success.

“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 him about.

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 him.”

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 released.

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 1997.

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 at <flicksart@aol.com>