OXFORD, Miss. – When a Spot On Productions camera crew arrived at the University of Mississippi last summer, they weren’t sure exactly what to expect. There was no script, professional actors or special effects.
A year later, their efforts have yielded a buzz-generating documentary about the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation’s annual Summer Youth Institute, a program that helps high school students from around the state become leaders in the process of racial reconciliation.
Philip Scarborough and business partner Tom Beck directed and produced “Growing Our Own” for their Jackson-based company. The film, which features original music by Mississippi artists, premiered at the 2012 Crossroads Film Festival in May. It is scheduled to show at the Sun and Sand Film Festival Nov. 7-11 on the Gulf Coast.
“Our cameraman Alex Warren pretty much lived with the kids during the 2011 Summer Youth Institute,” Scarborough said. “He shot over 36 hours, while Tom and I shot another 15 hours of interviews and other b-roll. With more than 50 hours of footage overall, we were in production for 10 months.”
Funded by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, the film was created to showcase the Summer Youth Institute and its impact upon the 32 students. Besides first- and second-year program participants and Winter Institute staff, the documentary includes cameos by former Gov. William Winter and Myrlie Evers, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
“I hope viewers of this documentary will see the passion these young people have about changing their communities, the importance of knowing Mississippi’s past and the ability of youth to make a positive difference,” said Elliot Long, project coordinator for the Winter Institute.
Renee Ombaba, a Southern studies graduate student and intern for the Winter Institute, served as a counselor during the summer program and its filming. The Jackson native reflected upon both the process and the finished product.
“It was fun,” Ombaba said. “Having a camera follow us around was kind of like being in a reality show. I’ve seen the film and think the producers did an excellent job of telling our story.”
Ombaba, who became acquainted with the work of the Winter Institute six years ago as a sophomore at Jim Hill High School, sees the importance of exposing Mississippi youth to life-changing opportunities such as the Summer Youth Institute.
“By supporting the school’s Civil Rights Civil Liberties Club, the Winter Institute showed me youth can be empowered to overcome the challenges facing them in their local communities,” Ombaba said. “It is essential that we keep the cycle going for future generations of Mississippi high school students.”
Students from the Summer Youth Institute said they are excited about appearing in the documentary.
“The program was a wonderful experience,” said Timeshia Green, a senior at McComb High School. “The counselors were amazing. We made lots of new friends and were able to freely express ourselves and talk about anything we wanted to. I wish we could go again.
“As for the film, I had no idea that it would turn out like it did when we were being filmed. It feels great to be a part of something that historic.”
In a synopsis of the film, the producers wrote:
“Fifty years after James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi, former Mississippi Governor William F. Winter and the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation bring together students – black, white and otherwise – from around the state to the site of Meredith’s courageous triumph. Led by Winter, historians and civil rights activists of the 1960s, the high schoolers learn how to think about, talk about and change the conversation on race and economic justice in Mississippi.
“Once a site of anguish and violence, Ole Miss becomes a place for discovery and hope, filled with lessons its students can learn, and take back with them to their towns, cities and communities. ‘Growing Their Own’ documents the journey of these students, and a state that continues to evolve.”
There are no immediate plans for the documentary to be screened publicly at the university or to air on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, but officials are hopeful that it will eventually reach a much wider audience.
“We understand from the wisdom of a number of cultures that if you want to create a positive future, or as our Hawaiian friends tell us, ‘If you plan for a hundred years, teach the children,'” said Susan Glisson, executive director of the Winter Institute. “That is why the work of the Summer Youth Institute and the statewide youth work that it encourages is the most important focus of the Winter Institute.”