5Q's w/James Theres "The 30th of May" Director

2017 BSFF
The 30th of May (39 min) dir: James Theres
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#1: Can you describe your movie and why somebody should see it in less than 140 characters?

A remarkable untold story of African American patriotism in the Deep South which dates back to end of the Civil War.  It’s a tradition like no other in the country.  

#2: What do you want the Borrego Springs Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title?

In addition to the remarkable history of the event, the film's genesis and post-production are equally unique.  The 30th of May film is the product of an award-winning academic paper I wrote while attending Jackson State University.  I graduate in May 2017 with a Masters in History.  I discovered the story in fall of 2015 and presented at two conferences in Spring 2016.  The paper won "Best Paper" at both.  

In April, I realized that Memorial Day fell on May 30.  I decided then that I wanted to film the event.  I connected with a friend, Chris Windfield, from Jackson, Mississippi and we put together a plan.  I flew back in from Washington D.C. and in three days we completed all of the interviews and filming over Memorial Day weekend.

Then the real fun began.  I flew back to DC and from 1,000 miles away Chris and I completed the entire film over the summer via email, phone calls and text.  I wrote the script/narration and added production notes and recommendations. Chris edited and narrated the film. From beginning to end, the entire project took 5 months.

#3: What is your movie making background?  Tell us about yourself.

This is my first documentary film.  I'm an award-winning speechwriter/Public Affairs Officer by day for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I've dabbled in making several short videos before, but I never thought I would make a documentary film.  I have no film school training, but years of Public Affairs and Marketing work coupled with a history background has provided me with a good eye for what's interesting, unique and tells a good story.  

#4: What was the biggest lesson learned in getting your film made?

Two important lessons.  Check your ego at the door and stay focused on making the best documentary possible. Making this film was definitely unique because we put it together from a distance.  Maybe that helped more than we are aware. Chris and I had several discussions about the length of the documentary, content, use of animation, etc.  All productive and fruitful.  That's the "leaving your ego" at the door part.  Then once we decided on the direction we set out tell it the best way we could--the stay focused part.  In the end, given the distance, time and ages (I'm 20 years older than Chris), we were able to put something together that the communities of Natchez, Ms., and Vidalia, La., can be proud of and tells their story through their eyes and experiences.  


#5: What does the future hold for your film and you?

We received a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council for audience engagement.  We've already screened the film at Tougaloo College and Jackson State University in Jackson, Ms., and at the Zion Baptist Church in Vidalia, Louisiana.  Mississippi Public Television has requested a copy and may pick up the film around Memorial Day 2017.  The Mississippi Department of Archives has requested to archive the film for future generations.  That's exciting.  Recently, on November 20, I showed the film to 97 Fellows at the Department of Veterans Affairs Leadership VA 2016 final session.  After a vigorous post-film discussion, I was delighted they gave the film a standing ovation.  We hope to bring "The 30th of May" to as many festivals as possible.   I also to also present the paper version at 2-3 more history conferences in 2017 as well.  

For me, I hope to make more documentary films.  I have a few ideas percolating. Chris and I collaborated quite well on this one.  What I'm looking for are the untold stories in American history of people, places and events which folks in the region know about, but few others do.  A series of American Untold Stories--one for each state maybe. 

Matthew NothelferComment