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Tomato Republic: Let The Takeover Begin

by Mashal Noor 30 Oct 2014 3:09 PM

This week on Frame of Mind, watch a funny and down to earth documentary about a small town’s mayoral elections.


This week on Frame of Mind, watch a funny and down to earth documentary about a small town’s mayoral elections.

  • Tune in to KERA TV on Thursday at 10 PM to catch this week’s episode!

tomato republic

I spoke with the director of Tomato Republic, Jenna Jackson.

On the idea behind Tomato Republic:

It came out of the blue.  I am from Jacksonville – graduated high school there 20+ years ago.  I hadn’t been back a lot, but since my family doesn’t live there anymore, I only go back ever once in a while.  I have a good friend who moved back several years ago and she called me one day and said that I needed to bring my film crew down because we needed to do a documentary about this mayor’s race.  I laughed it off and told her that I had just started my company and were super busy.  She told me that I would regret it if I didn’t, but I sort of blew her off for about a week.  So a week later, she called me and told me that there were three candidates.  As soon as she told me who the three candidates were and their backgrounds, I said that we were on our way.  We took a team down there for a weekend, just to see how it played out and we were all hooked.  So that was it – we had to do it!

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Rob Gowin holding up his sign to get more people to vote for him. Photo: P&R Productions

On working with the three mayoral candidates and the people of Jacksonville:

They were great!  Partially because we were from there – my brother was my co-director and producer, and our third partner in crime was Whitney Carter who is actually the one who called me and told me that we had to make this film.  So I think that because we were all from there, everyone was more open than they would have been normally.  Mr. Melvin, the current mayor, didn’t want to talk, but he was never really ugly or combative.  He was very nice, but he didn’t want to get into any extra interviews.  But William (Igbokwe) and Rob (Gowin) were both a lot of fun.  Rob basically let us invade his life – he seemed to be a very serious contender which is one of the reasons that we really focused on him and spent a lot of time on him.  He was great, especially considering that he had a camera crew following him around for three whole months.  He was such a natural and we had such a great time with them.

Everyone else in Jacksonville, just the normal citizens, were all so natural, which really amazed me.  We would give that lecture of pretending that we’re not here and make sure that people knew to ignore the cameras and they were completely natural and did their thing and forgot that we were there.  I think that’s one of the reasons why this film ended up so funny – because they were so natural and relaxed and we had such a good time making it.  We had these amazing, authentic, hilarious characters that we could not have scripted if we tried.

On including the trains in the film:

I have to give full credit to our brilliant editor/producer David Hobbs, he’s just an amazing storyteller.  Literally every interview that we did, the train would come through.  From having lived there, I hadn’t thought about it for a couple of years, but whenever we did anything, graduate high school, a football game, dancing in the drill time, or any of that, the train would always interrupt.  As a kid who grew up in Jacksonville, it becomes background noise; but as a producer going back, I’m doing an interview and the train goes through so we had to pause for it.  It happened so many times that David, the editor, told me that we had to make the train into a character because it was so hysterical.  It literally came through every time we were filming.

After David suggested that, we took it in stride.  The funny thing is that we never had to wait for the train, it would always come through, and it would come through at the perfect moments.  It came about organically because it kept getting in the middle of everything that we did.  It’s almost like it became the fourth mayoral candidate!

Kenneth Melvin making a point at the mayoral debate. Photo: P&R Productions

Kenneth Melvin making a point at the mayoral debate. Photo: P&R Productions

On the biggest challenge:

I think that initially the biggest challenge was going into a place like Jacksonville, that is private and small, and having a camera crew invade was very different for them.  They got comfortable with us almost instantly, which was great because it wasn’t as much of a challenge anymore.  Also, the fact that some of the older guys, such as Mayor Melvin, didn’t love the idea of having us there, but they were always really nice. It would have been great to have full access with every single person, so that was a little bit of a challenge that we had to work around.

On the Indie filmmaking scene in Texas:

I love it!  We premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival in the spring, and we could not have premiered at a better place.  It was so amazing – they treat every filmmaker like they’re red carpet loyalty.  We had such a laugh; we got great press attention, we won a special jury award.  It was great because it was close to East Texas, so we had a big East Texas group come in for the premiere at night.  My brother, who is my partner in the company, has been doing independent film in Austin for several years, so he has a little more involvement with that, but this was really my first foray into independent filmmaking in Texas, as my background is more in news.  It was such an interesting, talented group.  I keep saying to my friends in New York and LA that Texas is really the third coast.  Since then, we have been approached with many scripted texts and stories, we’re working on our next documentary.  Texas is the place to be for really talented filmmakers.  The Texas Film Commission is amazing, and everybody is really supportive of each other – it’s just a really great environment

On her favorite Texas filmmaker:

I don’t know if I have a favorite, but people who I really love are Kat Candler, and the guys who made Flutter, Eric Heuber and Andy Cope.  I have too many to narrow it down!

William Igbokwe, the third mayoral candidate. Photo: P&R Productions

William Igbokwe, the third mayoral candidate. Photo: P&R Productions

On her future plans for filmmaking:

We are finishing up a documentary right now, and its very different from Tomato Republic.  It’s more along the lines of what I’ve done on the news side.  It’s the story of a wrongfully convicted mother in Corpus Christi who has been in prison for seven years, away from her five children, and who will hopefully be getting out soon.  We’re also looking at some scripted projects and we also do some corporate stuff, so we’re rocking and rolling and really having a great time.  We’re really hoping to pair up with some awesome Texas filmmakers on future projects!

On being included in the Frame of Mind series:

I’m so excited to have Tomato Republic on KERA.  It’s a huge audience for us, and we’re beyond thrilled to have it included on the Frame of Mind series.  We’re currently really working on building up audience for this film and we’ve had great feedback.  We’re doing a Texas theater tour with this movie and we had the screening at the capitol in Austin and we’re setting dates for the beginning of the year to screen it at the capitol in DC.

You can find more information and work by Jenna Jackson and her production company (P&R Productions) on their website and vimeo!