The Making of Mississippi

FAQ – Top Ten Questions about “Reversing the Mississippi” – Answers by director Ian Midgley

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10) Where did the idea come from to make “Reversing the Mississippi”?

A: When I moved to LA after college the recession happened. There was no work and my dreams of breaking into Hollywood took a detour. With the country in crisis and my plans od being a music video director veering off course I started looking for was that Americans around me were reinventing their life paths and finding ways to be in control of their own income outside of a traditional path. Soon after that I put all my stuff in storage, bought a camera, and started traveling across the country looking for people who were creating their own realities.


9) How did you find the characters for the film?

A: Almost entirely word of mouth. For the first six months of traveling I didn’t even have a smartphone. As I went from one progressive community to the next I would ask travellers and activists about whom I should film with. I learned about Marcin Jakubowski and Open Source Ecology from an Earthship builder in the high deserts of New Mexico and a few months later I was in Missouri filming with him. Asking around and making my mission known was key.


8) Why did you choose these two characters out of the dozens of activists you filmed with around the country?

A: After spending a few weeks with Turner my whole perspective on life shifted. His lessons on social justice paired with his determination to improve the lives of his students really woke me up to the realities of privilege and social inequalities that are built into the fabric of our society.

Similarly, while I was filming with Marcin he taught me how to build machines and trusted me to make instructional videos on how to fabricate these machines even though I had never welded or torched a piece of metal in my life. After the initial weeks of filming with these two men the film quickly focused into a movie solely about them. So in short, I chose these two characters largely because they changed my life.


7) What makes Nat Turner a controversial character?

A: Before Turner moved to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to start Our School at Blair Grocery, an urban farming school built in an abandoned grocery store, he was a history teacher at Beacon High School in New York City. He was accused of accompanying several of his students and their parents to Cuba in a 2007 spring break trip. At the time, it was illegal for Americans to visit Cuba and one would have to fly through Mexico and avoid having their passport stamped to prevent suspicion upon returning to the States. Several trips were sponsored by Beacon High School to Cuba and been approved by the Board of Education, but nevertheless Turner was targeted for the 2007 trip and investigated by the NYC Board of Ed. Turner resigned from his position at Beacon in 2008.


6) How do you feel about some of the comments on the Internet that portray Marcin in a negative light?

A: I think that any leader will have detractors. I tried to highlight some of these issues in “Reversing the Mississippi” to show the difficulties of being a leader. Keeping morale up and caring for your workers is essential to success – a lesson Marcin would have to learn over the years. I think that is the most compelling part of the story: this conversation about being a leader. I hope that by sharing the shortcomings of the characters we can help audiences to relate to their stuggle.


5) What has happened with Marcin’s project and the Global Village Construction Set outside of the film?

A: The machines of the Global Village Construction Set have been featured in global media and as a result many people have become DIY replicators. The Compressed Earth Block press has been replicated in Texas, Indiana, China, and Italy just to name a few. The LifeTrac tractor has been built in Guatemala and in Los Angeles for use by the South Central Farmers. I recently heard of a project to use the CEB press to rebuilt Kurdish homes in Iraq. They’ve moved on to prototype 3D printers, micro tractors, and other heavy farming equipment.


4) What was it like living on the road?

A: It was exciting and exhausting. I used the website to find hosts in most of the cities I stayed in and was able to make great friends. It was like the first version of airbnb – kind of a craigslist caliber interface – it was free and it was awesome. I think the website has since been corporatized and I don’t know if it’s used much anymore. In between destinations I would sleep in my truck. I was filming about 14 hours a day and then managing my own footage. I had over 400 hours of footage by the end.

It was amazing to see nearly the entire country. It is a remarkably different place from one town to the next full of warm and interesting folks. The few times I felt threatened were miniscule in comparison to all the memorable experiences of strangers inviting me into their homes and sharing their lives with me.


3) How did you decide to bring Turner and Marcin together?

A: Turner was always dealing with a lot of small broken farm equipment. When I told him about Marcin’s project he was pretty excited about the possibility of someday having affordable large-scale machinery like his. Marcin was working hard on getting the LifeTrac tractor operational for farming and construction. Heavy testing of each model was necessary for progress in the design. It became clear that a tractor for New Orleans would be a great idea and would benefit both of them, so we organized an introduction and planned for them to get together and build.

However, I did not expect for them to get along so well, and the friendship and subsequent mentorship that occurred was a complete surprise to me. Their relationship changed the focus of the film once again and it was an organic process from there to edit the film to what it is now.


2) What does the title mean?

A: Turner says, “The work that we are doing is like trying to reverse the flow of the Mississippi River.” – So the title is a metaphor for swimming upstream, or trying to make an effect on tremendous forces that are working against you.


1) How good is DeRonta’s fried chicken?

A: The ‘golden pieces of friend chicken’ that DeRonta cooked at Open Source Ecology were incredible. We call it ‘cooking with DeRonta’ because he puts on a performance like a talk show host the whole time. He needs to have his own TV show…