Filmmaker impressed during quick area tour

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

The rich blues heritage of the Southwest Mississippi area haslong kept it in the back of the minds of movers and shakers in theentertainment industry, and a whirlwind tour of Hazlehurst andBrookhaven Wednesday gave one big name some ideas to work with.

Andy Thomas, a documentary filmmaker who has also been a part ofsuch major children’s movies as “Up,” “WALL-E,” “Ratatouille,””Cars,” and “Finding Nemo,” quickly toured Hazlehurst andBrookhaven with Copiah County Cultural Affairs Director JanetSchriver in order to get a visual on the area and begin abrainstorming process that has unbounded potential, Schriversaid.

“They came in and were kind of looking at the region, becausethey’re obviously interested in the blues, but they also considerour cultural history to be very rich,” she said. “Andy doesdocumentaries, but I’m not sure that’s all he’s interested indoing. I think there’s some interest by some folks in Hollywood insome economic development here.”

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Schriver said the main draw of the area, of course, is thealmost legendary life of blues great Robert Johnson, who allegedlysold his soul to the devil in order to be the greatest bluesmusician who ever lived.

But Schriver also took the filmmaker and his team, whichincluded Charles Ray, who was the art director for “The Godfather,”to Brookhaven to do a quick run-through of the Mississippi Schoolof the Arts.

“I drove around Hazlehurst and told them some stories, then wecame to Brookhaven, and I could tell they were sorely impressed,”she said. “It was clearly evident that Brookhaven has put outeffort to try to make their community a nice one and I could tellthey were very impressed. It’s so clean, it’s a nice town, and itfeels very solid.”

Schriver said the fervor and haste of the trip did not detractfrom Thomas’ consideration of the area for future projects.

“He’s supposed to be back in touch in two weeks,” she said. “Idon’t know what comes of it yet. They were just coming in andlooking so they can have a visual image of what’s here.”

And as far as the talk of economic development, Schriver saidthe group was tight-lipped up front.

“Right now we’re at the brainstorming part, and they’re tossingaround a few names, but it’s in such the beginning stages, we justdon’t know what’s there yet,” she said.

In the past, the Johnson legend as well as the culture of theHazlehurst and Brookhaven area have brought other big names totown, including “Ray” screenplay writer Jimmy White, acclaimedblues musicians Rocky Lawrence and Rory Block, and world-renownedguitarist George Winston, who have all visited in the last twoyears.

Schriver said in the end, any positive publicity for the area isa plus, but her main goal is to help reach children through thearts.

“My interest has always been with working with using the arts towork with kids, and Andy Thomas has some interest in that too,because he has seen it really work,” she said. “We’re not onlylooking at the blues aspect, but how the rich blues culture here,the history of the area and all those things can tie in where theycan help kids.”