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franklin county times

Phil Campbell documentary to debut next week

It’s a project that has been a year in the making and next weekend the public will finally get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes story that has touched people even thousands of miles away.

“I’m With Phil,” the documentary created by Phil Campbell native Andrew Reed that chronicles the evolving role the Phil and Phyllis Campbells have played in their tornado-ravaged namesake town, will be screed during the George Lindsey Film Festival in Florence next weekend.

Reed said the screening is the culmination of countless hours of preparing, filming, editing, re-editing and critiquing of his project that started around this same time last year.

“I had a friend who called me in late February of 2011, I believe, to tell me about the Phil Campbells from all over the world who were going to be coming to our town for a big ‘Phil Campbell Convention,’” Reed said. “He told me I should do a documentary about it but I wasn’t completely sold on the idea at the time.”

Reed said he was interested in doing a short, quirky documentary but was unsure if the “Phil Campbell Convention” was the subject matter he was looking for.

“I kept thinking about it and considering the different possibilities and angles and then I found out a reporter from the Wall Street Journal was coming down to do a story about it and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I really can make something out of this if it has enough interest surrounding it to get the Wall Street Journal involved.’”

Reed said his original idea for the documentary would be to chronicle the journey of these different people from across the world who all bared the same last name as the town he grew up in.

“I wanted to show all the differences in the Phils and how many different personalities were represented in just that one name,” he said. “What did they think of the South? What compelled them to come here? It was going to be this quirky yet enlightening story.”

Reed had gotten in touch with Rita Barton, who was coordinating the “Phil Campbell Convention” on the local end to coincide with the town’s annual Hoedown Festival. He started filming some preliminary meetings where the planning was taking place and got in touch with Phil Campbell from Brooklyn, N.Y., who was the one who organized the whole convention to begin with.

“I talked with Rita and Phil and I could really see it coming together,” he said. “But then April 27 happened and it changed everything.”

Reed spent the day of April 27 huddled in his aunt’s basement in Russellville where he avoided the 210 mph winds of the e-F5 tornado that wiped out the town he grew up in.

“We didn’t get back into the town until the morning of April 28 and you just couldn’t believe what had happened,” Reed said. “My home was spared, but we were so close to all the severe damage. At that point, the documentary and all the Phils hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was just trying to figure out what we were going to do and how I could help my town.”

Reed said he eventually talked to Brooklyn Phil who was trying to figure out a way he could help the town from a thousand miles away.

“Brooklyn Phil told me he wanted to turn the convention into a relief effort to help the town,” Reed said. “He encouraged me to continue with the documentary and turn it into a fundraiser.

“I thought it was a great idea to change the focus but at the time, I just wanted to physically help in any way I could. I filmed some things at first just so people who weren’t here could know what was going on. Other than that, I mainly helped with the AM radio station that was set up for communication and helped out where I could.”

Reed said after about seven to 10 days he finally picked up his camera and began filming again. He gathered a crew of 10 that consisted of former classmates and current students from the University of North Alabama where he is an adjunct instructor teaching a video production class.

“We filmed interviews with victims, meetings and ultimately all the Phils arriving in the town in June for what became known as the ‘I’m With Phil’ event,” Reed said.

“They were really dedicated to helping the town any way they could. I was inspired by what they did and I know other people will be, too.

“This documentary captures what a big event this really was and how important and meaningful it was to the people in my town. I think people will really enjoy it.”

The feature-length documentary runs for and hour and 20 minutes and Reed said viewers can expect to see a professionally-level film.

“This isn’t something that has just been thrown together,” he said. “This is the sixth version of the movie. A lot of people have looked at this and given their opinions and I think what we’ve ended up with is a compelling story that really gets into many personal elements behind the events that have transpired over the past year.

“The people who have been involved with this project both in front of and behind the camera have made this story possible. I’m just the person who is telling the story.”

Reed, who didn’t want to be personally involved in the documentary to begin with, actually narrates the story and serves as a connecting thread that ties the Phils and their efforts to the town and its citizens.

“After the first viewing of the documentary, a few people said it was missing a spine – a connection,” he said. “I’m normally not a big fan of the person creating the documentary to be in it as well, but this story affected me personally so I finally agreed.”

After screening at the George Lindsey Film Festival, Reed said they would be submitting “I’m With Phil” to as many film festivals as possible in the hopes of receiving an offer to sell the distribution rights.

“This documentary has the two-fold purpose of being an interesting story but also serving as a fundraising tool to raise money for the town,” he said. “We’re hoping to get some companies to promote it and I think we’ll find success with it sooner or later.”

Because they plan to make a serious run on the film festival circuit, Reed said the only way to see the “I’m With Phil” documentary for the time being would be to see it at a screening.

“When you have a movie you want to be distributed, you can’t sell copies or post it on the Internet because festivals don’t want to screen something that is readily available somewhere else,” he said. “The important thing right now is making the documentary as successful as possible to help the town.”

For those interested seeing “I’m With Phil” at the George Lindsey Film Festival, the documentary will be screened on Friday, March 2, at 9 p.m. at the Zodiac Theater in downtown Florence. Admission is free.

For more information and updates, visit the “I’m With Phil” Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Im-with-Phil/308793679162642.


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