The Desoto Film Festival will be held Nov. 2-4 at SouthPoint Church in Southaven. It’s the third installment of the festival that focuses on family-friendly films started by the Desoto Arts Institute (DAI) in 2019.
DAI is a nonprofit arts training organization founded in Southaven in 2016 by Executive Director Robb Smith. It is dedicated to supporting, training, educating and mentoring the next generation of professional filmmakers and creatives.
The film festival sprang from an idea Smith and Program Director Jesaiah Burnett had after taking one of their own short films out on the festival circuit and seeing just how R-rated and extreme the content could sometimes be.
“At film festivals there can be inappropriate stuff I wouldn’t watch on my own time, let alone bring a family to see it,” Burnett said. “That inspired us to start our own that would spotlight quality, family-friendly films that can appeal to all audiences.”
A highlight of this year’s festival is on Saturday when the final block of films will double as a graduation ceremony for DAI’s students and showcase their work.
“It’s the first formal one-year program we’ve done,” Burnett said. “A lot of our students that are just now graduating, they have already worked on things like Young Rock and Bluff City Law that have come to the area. They are already actively working in the industry.”
Seth Sipe is one of 20 students graduating from DAI’s new year-long filmmaking program. The 30-year-old Southaven native was looking for a way to take his burgeoning career as a videographer and editor to the next level when he heard about DAI.
“Everything I knew was self-taught, but I knew eventually I needed to bring my artistic talent and skills into the professional film industry in some kind of way,” he said. “I was trying to find a studio with like-minded people who are willing to teach me how to get connected and teach me the skills necessary for the film industry. I just happened to come across DAI from a friend last year. And I just fell in love with it.”
Sipe served as second assistant director on Grand Larceny, the Institute’s latest short film project that will premiere at the festival. And he says that has given him invaluable insight into how the industry works.
“I was there to make sure that everybody was staying on top of everything, but most importantly, to make sure Robb was able to do his job,” Sipe said. “To be in the film industry, you need to learn how to be part of a team of people with each playing a specific role. Before, I had no idea what that was. I got to learn that as well as things like the different lingo. Like, for example, when somebody says, ‘Give me a brick,’ what they mean is ‘Give me a battery for the camera.’”
The festival will offer a lot more beyond just the work of DAI’s students.
“We’ll have films from all over the world,” Burnett said. “Friday night we’re going to do an international film showcase. We want to expose people to films that they wouldn’t be able to just go to YouTube or a streaming service and find. Our main goal of the festival is to open the next generation of filmmakers to the possibility of making films.”
The festival kicks off with a hands-on filmmaking workshop on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Then, the films get rolling on Friday with a local film showcase at 7 p.m. Then there’s screenings all day on Saturday beginning at 1:30 p.m., culminating with the DAI showcase and graduation at 7 p.m.
The Mississippi Film Office, which continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary, is one of the festival’s sponsors.
“As we’re winding down a banner year for our office, we’re making workforce development our priority for the new year,” said Film Office Director Nina Parikh. “The work of DAI and their film festival is crucial for inspiring and training future Mississippi filmmakers and crew members. And as our industry continues to grow, we encourage DAI’s students and graduates to seek out the in-state opportunities Mississippi-based productions provide.”
For more information of the Desoto Film Festival, visit desotofilmfestival.com. For more information on the Desoto Arts Institute, visit desotoartsinstitute.com.