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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Southern Studies Graduates’ Films to be Screened at the Lyric Theatre

Fried chicken, authors and musicians come together on-screen during the Oxford Film Festival’s Summer Film Series.

As part of the festival, on July 27, “Saving Willie Mae’s Scotch House” and a documentary about the Thacker Mountain Radio Show both will be shown at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Oxford. Admission is $5.

Both films have been produced by graduates of the University of Mississippi’s Southern studies program, sheltered in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Saving Willie Mae’s Scotch House,” produced and directed by Joe York, was completed in November 2008 after 18 months of filming and editing. It focuses on Willie Mae Seaton and the renovation of her New Orleans restaurant by a handful of volunteers after Hurricane Katrina. The film has received national attention via airings on public broadcasting around the country since December.

“In a way, this one restaurant, on this one corner, is a metaphor for the city as a whole. It’s still there, they still serve good food, but it is different somehow,” York said.

York and his documentary crew followed volunteers – many of whom had never even heard of the Scotch House before – as they worked to bring the restaurant back. It was a process that started as a moderate repair job but evolved to an extensive overhaul that took more than a year.

Among the many volunteers were Oxonians John T. Edge, director of the UM Southern Foodways Alliance and a recent inductee into the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America; and Mary Beth Lasseter, SFA associate director.

The Thacker Mountain Radio documentary was a master’s thesis project for recent graduate Mary Warner, who won a Graduate Achievement Award from the UM Graduate School for her efforts.

Warner, who holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from UM, worked as producer of Thacker Mountain Radio from 2007 to early 2009.

Started in 1997 as the brainchild of two Southern studies graduate students, the free weekly show won a 2005 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. It is held in Oxford during fall and spring at Off Square Books and combines unscripted, unrehearsed live music with author readings.

Musical acts each week may be bluegrass, jazz, rock or folk and have included Peter Rowan, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Victoria Williams and Olu Dara. Authors famous near and far such as poet laureate Billy Collins, Elmore Leonard, Roy Blount Jr., Kinky Friedman and Robert Olen Butler have offered spoken words from their books’ pages.

As producer, Warner served as liaison between the front and the rear of the stage. She took over after Jamie Kornegay and Lyn Roberts had sustained the show for many years.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Warner, a Florida native who transferred to UM in 2001. “Thacker Mountain is a place you can experience live music and readings without distraction. It’s all about what’s happening on the stage. Curiosity is innate and that’s what fuels the show – curiosity about seeing the person behind the work.”

Warner said she simply wanted to tell the story of how Thacker Mountain Radio came into existence, and she credits the Southern studies program for helping her follow through with her vision.

“It was really special, because I had a plan going into the program, and all of my professors helped me accomplish it. I gained a more thoughtful understanding of the South and where we are going, and I am proud to say I lived in Mississippi, because I miss it.”