Black filmmakers are receiving support from New York-based Black Public Media (BPM) as contest winners were awarded money for participation in the PitchBlack Forum. BPM held a contest that split $225,000 between three winners, and one of those winners was Marlene McCutris for her documentary film “Wednesdays In Mississippi.”
McCurtis was inspired by listening to her mother tell her stories as a kid about the Jim Crow Era when she was growing up.
“I fell in love with how stories can bring people together,” she said. “It pushed me to become a filmmaker. I was drawn to stories that uplift and inspire, but I am also interested in untold stories, mysteries, and history.”
Even though McCurtis loved filmmaking, she didn’t start there. She began as a work-for-hire director and producer at Arnold Shapiro Productions. This led to McCurtis being a part of the team that worked on various platforms like A&E, PBS, Lifetime, and Discovery Channel.
“I worked on shows like ‘Dog Whisperer,’ ‘Beyond Scared Straight,’ ‘Hidden Victims,’ and ‘Bringing Home Baby,’ among other shows,” she said. “I enjoyed doing this kind of work, but I was ready to tell my own stories.”
Once McCurtis got the urge to direct her films, she left that production company and started working with the Theaterworks project, where she created her ventures.
“The first film I directed with them was a documentary called ‘Moving Forward.’ This film was about previously incarcerated parents reentering the world and their stories about the adjustment back into society and parenthood,” she said. “While I directed, I let the participants tell their story in their own way, and I just oversaw the writing and storytelling.”
In between transitioning from directing TV shows to her film, McCurtis stumbled upon a little-known history of the civil rights movement powered by Black and White women in 1960s Mississippi, which would lead to her working on her new documentary for the next 10 years.
“There was an article done about Wednesday in Mississippi in The Crisis magazine, and I saw the article in Tennessee when I was with my friend,” she explained. “Now I know history, but I knew nothing about this, and if I didn’t know that means most people didn’t know. This made me do my research and piqued my interest in making it a film.”
McCurtis has been working on the film ever since and has been lucky enough to obtain original content for her movie.
“I was able to interview some participants of the movement before they passed. I obtained original voice records of the women, who aided in pushing for women’s rights, helped build daycare centers, helped build businesses for women, among other things as segregation, and women’s rights were in jeopardy in Mississippi during this time.”
While the documentary is not finished, that didn’t stop McCurtis from entering the film into the BPM contest.
“I became involved when Leslie Field Cruz, the Executive Director of BPM, called me and wanted me to enter the PitchBlack Forum, as one of the other producers dropped out. I entered, but I doubted myself winning as I was behind due to entering into the forum late.”
McCurtis was selected as one of the winners of the Forum and was awarded $150,000 for her project.
“I was so grateful for winning, and this gift gives me the opportunity to turn full time to finishing my film as now I can get a rough cut for it,” she said. “The rough cut will then allow me to send it out to investors and prepare it for fundraisers and receive the funding for the final stretch of getting my film done.”
For more information on the film, or to support and help raise funding, visit wimsfilmproject.com.