Heartland Film Festival selects documentary made by two Indiana University seniors

The Heartland Film Festival will feature the work of two Indiana University students as part of its 2014 lineup.

“We’ll Be All Right,” a short documentary by Barton Girdwood and Carissa Barrett, will be screened as part of “Indiana Spotlight” at the festival, which runs Oct. 16 to 25.

Barton Girdwood

Barton Girdwood is a senior at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Remarkably, it is their first film.

Girdwood and Barrett, both seniors, completed the project as part of Susanne Schwibs’ documentary filmmaking class last spring in the Department of Communication and Culture, now in The Media School.

“We’ll Be All Right” shares the story of Frankie Presslaff, his unique family and his extraordinary mother, Mimsie.

And Mimsie has her own story – lots of them, in fact. She left behind a powerful family legacy in the form of hidden cassette tapes discovered after her death. In one recording, Mimsie said, “If you’re listening to this, I guess that means I’m looking down at ya. I thought I’d leave you this, funny stories.”

When Girdwood first pitched Mimsie to his film class, Barrett was hooked. “I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. It’s just not something you hear about every day, and I wanted a chance to help tell this family’s remarkable story.”

This particular family is what Girdwood describes as “thicker than blood.” Together, Presslaff and his longtime partner Kelly Compton are dads to eight adopted children.

Girdwood first heard about Presslaff through the coordinator of GLBT Student Support Services at IU, Doug Bauder. Several years passed, however, before the filmmaker and his subject would meet by chance.

“Within minutes he was telling me stories of his mother, Mimsie, and her final gift: a collection of cassette tapes on which she recorded her favorite life stories,” Girdwood said. “He went on and on about how he wanted to find a way to share her story and memory with the world. These tapes became the foundation and core for the film.”

Mimsie with two grandchildren

The short documentary ‘We’ll Be All Right’ tells the story of Mimsie, her son Frankie Presslaff and a family that is ‘thicker than blood.’

For five years, Presslaff found it too difficult to play Mimsie’s tapes. But as his grown children left home to start independent lives, he learned to let go. Presslaff once again allowed Mimsie’s voice and stories to come back into his life.

Girdwood said that when they mentioned her story to Bloomington residents, one after another began sharing their own memories. “Mimsie, we quickly discovered, was a lifeline in this town. From opening her home to a young trans woman, to assisting her gay son in adopting eight children, Mimsie’s life ripples throughout this town.”

“We really wanted to capture the emotions we felt while making the film and share with audiences the life, love, and wisdom Mimsie offered her family and the Bloomington community,” Barrett said. “This is a small slice of Bloomington culture that needed to be told for many reasons, but mainly to preserve the memory of Mimsie through the lives of her children and grandchildren.”

Girdwood, who hails from Lebanon, Ohio, is completing an individualized major in public memory, which combines cultural studies and production methods to analyze how storytelling practices alter cultural relationships to historical events.

Barrett, from South Bend, is studying communications and culture with a concentration in film and television and “a profound love for cinematography.”

Both students said they owe a debt of gratitude to their dedicated instructor. At times, Schwibs stayed for an hour before and after class to work through concepts and strategies. She also mentored the filmmaking team through the festival submission process. Or, as Girdwood summed it up, “Susanne is the reason this film exists.”

“Both Barton and Carissa were wonderful to have in the classroom: inquisitive, thoughtful and with a true artistic spark,” said Schwibs, a producer/director for WTIU-TV whose documentaries have been shown on public television stations across the nation.

“I probably am most impressed by their ability to communicate something genuine, moving and beautiful,” she said. “It was a pleasure to see their film take shape, and yes, I am absolutely delighted that it will screen at the Heartland Film Festival.”

The festival will screen “We’ll Be All Right” as part of its “Indiana Spotlight” program at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at AMC Castleton Square 8 and at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at AMC Traders Point Theater 7.

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