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Take 5 with “Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Sharon Swanson, executive producer of “Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story.” This film will be screening Friday, Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at noon.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

Light in the Piazza author Elizabeth Spencer is the heart of this film based on her memoir. This love cinematic love letter reveals the moral heroism of one of America’s greatest undiscovered novelists—a thoughtful Southern writer whose social questions were too big for her small hometown. The films surveys the terrain of segregated post-war Mississippi as seen through the eyes of a sheltered plantation child who rebels against racial and sexual injustice and ultimately ends up in exile from her roots. Through personal interviews, dramatic re-enactments, family recollections and testimony from some of today’s best writers, Landscapes of the Heart paints a vivid and compelling portrait of a strong and elegant modern woman of letters. In a story spanning two continents and nearly a century, this movie retraces her journey from Mississippi daughter to international literary star and back again.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

The biggest lesson I learned in getting this film made was the difficulty a recession can create in fundraising for a project of this kind. The best part about getting the film made is recognizing that the time it took (6 years) allowed us to gather insights into the fabric of Elizabeth Spencer’s life and work that led to a far more multi-layered and satisfying story than we could have realized early on.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

I am not a filmmaker. I am a nonfiction writer who developed an interest in Elizabeth Spencer’s story. Elizabeth had already told her own story in her memoir, Landscapes of the Heart, but it seemed incomplete. Knowing Elizabeth as a witty, warm and insightful person, I felt that a documentary film was the best route for revealing the depth of her bravery as well. In order to make the film that I wanted, I brought on filmmaker Rebecca Cerese, who has an incredible track record in capturing these sorts of stories on film. Rebecca seemed to immediately understand the story I wanted to tell here.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

Elizabeth Spencer’s story is one of incredible bravery during a difficult time in our country’s history. Her long life also reflects nearly a century of the history of Southern culture and literature. But more importantly, this film is a fascinating story of a life well lived, balanced by poignancy and humor.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

We would like to see this film on national public television venues and in national distributorship to libraries around the country. We would also like to see it screen in international locales because of the high regard Elizabeth’s work has garnered throughout the world.
As for me, I am already giving some thought to my next long term project—perhaps a nonfiction book this time!

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