Making Space for Film in Mississippi

Thabi Moyo, Ryan Parker and Nina Parikh stand together.
Ryan Parker (center) stands with Thabi Moyo (left) and Nina Parikh (right) of the Mississippi Film Office at Sundance Film Festival in 2020.

Growing up in Brookhaven, movies were a big part of Ryan Parker’s life. On weekends, he was refreshing his stack of VHS rentals. Or, attending the local four-screen movie theatre – a luxury not offered in many small Mississippi towns.

“Film brings together writing, visuals, music – all of it together. I don’t know of anything like it. I think good films can change your life. I think they can change the way you see the world, the way you see other people,” said Parker, reflecting on the power of film. “They are empathy engines, in my mind, when done well. I think about films in my life that had as much impact as any class I’ve taken or sermon I’ve sat through. Bringing films like that to Mississippi, creating space and setting the table for that is so important.”

While his weekends at Brookhaven’s Regal Cinema are behind him, Parker has his sights on building a bigger table for film in Mississippi through the newly formed Mississippi Film Society. He hopes to use the organization as a launching pad to educate, inspire and entertain Mississippians through community screenings, film curriculum, lectures, workshops and, in the near future, a film festival. To help bring his vision to life, Parker recently opened the Mississippi Film Society Fund and Mississippi Film Society Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi to support operations and ensure sustainability for generations to come.

Creating community, he says, has been the heart of this process since he first started conversations about the society after moving back to Mississippi in 2021. Parker has been involved in the film industry for years, first on the academic side, earning his Ph.D. in faith and film at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkley. Parker settled into a career on the publicity and marketing side of films – a strength that is helping him create connections as the Society gets off the ground.

“I’ve been arranging film events around the country for the past nine years,” he said. “Studios often have a list of cities where they want to stream things for word of mouth or test screenings. We’ve always argued that they’re ignoring vibrant communities (like Jackson).”

Connecting films to audiences outside the east and west coasts is an important part of his work. Through the Society, he hopes to fill the gap in smaller Mississippi communities without theatres, working with partners along the way.

“If you’re a community organizer, or if you’re working in the community in some capacity, whether you’re an educator, a faith leader, or a civic leader, and you’re interested in bringing film screenings to your community, I encourage them to reach out to me and let’s see if we can set something up. I have the equipment and can help with screening licenses,” he said.

Education is also part of the Mississippi Film Society’s first phase. Parker credits the Mississippi Film Office and others with empowering and educating young people about being film producers, especially with the rise in film productions around the state. He hopes the Society can also educate Mississippians about the power of film, being better film consumers and visual literacy. These efforts, he hopes, will lead to a film festival in 2025.

Parker acknowledges the void left by Crossroads Film Society, which last held its film festival in 2020, hoping the Society can grow into a strong regional film festival, in addition to regular programming, over time.

Working with the Community Foundation for Mississippi, he says, has been a perfect fit as the Society gets its feet on the ground.

“I would have never thought about an endowment, but I want this organization to be funded and passed off for future generations. I had only thought about an operating budget and how we can make money to pay for licensing fees, theatre rentals, marketing and everything it takes to make an organization run,” he said. “CFM empowers me to do things I couldn’t do in Los Angeles. Event organizations like this can’t exist without financial support. How CFM connects donors to organizations – that’s not my skill set. Having that is a huge help.”

Learn more about the Mississippi Film Society at Click to support the Mississippi Film Society Fund and Mississippi Film Society Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi. Donations over $1,000 to the Mississippi Film Society Endowment Fund qualify for the Endow Mississippi 25% state tax credit.