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Wednesday, April 9 @ Angelika
Thursday, April 10 @ Angelika

(To the tune of “Johnny B. Goode”)
Deep down in East Texas off Route 79,
way back up in the woods among a curtain of pines,
there sits a small town with a charming feel,
a republic of tomatoes known as Jacksonville,
that hasn’t really yet had the chance to grow,
but still yearns to overturn the ol’ status quo.

(Clears throat.) Nestled in Cherokee County, Jacksonville is one of those quaint, postcardable Texas towns, big on Southern hospitality, the great outdoors and the proud winner of Guinness World Record for the biggest bowl of salsa. With a population of 17,000, it’s small and slowly growing, but so are the cracks in the pavement. Enter restauranteur Rob Gowin and 23-year-old William Igbokwe, two proud Jacksonvillians worried about the town’s future who decide to do what any, uh, normal person would do: run for mayor.

tomtomIn this vibrant documentary, world-premiering at DIFF 2014, directors Jenna Jackson, Whitney Graham Carter and Anthony Jackson offer up a delightful and suspenseful look at the three-way tussle between Gowin, Igbokwe and incumbent mayor Kenneth Melvin. With election day around the corner, Jacksonville must choose between a fresh face, a charismatic businessman and an established politician, each with different visions of the future. Let the takeover begin.

Below, director Jenna Jackson shares insight into TOMATO REPUBLIC, a passion project that’s ripe for the pickin’.

DIFF: Given that you’re from the town, how long had you been wanting to make a film about Jacksonville?

Jenna Jackson: We always knew we wanted to make a film about Jacksonville but never knew exactly what. When we heard about this mayoral race we thought this would be the perfect way to showcase Jacksonville and East Texas people and their personalities.

DIFF: What would you say is so special about the town? What are they putting in the tomatoes down there?

JJ: Jacksonville is obviously special because of its people, but also special because it is truly “Behind the Pine Curtain.” It is a crossroads that many people pass through, but few get an authentic look at this place and its fascinating people. Being from there, we were able to get access to this usually-private world.

DIFF: While many Texan towns are quite conservative, why do you think it’s largely been a non-issue for Rob Gowin, an openly gay candidate, and William, a young African American, to run for mayor?

JJ: The reason it was primarily a non-issue was the belief fellow citizens had in Rob as an advocate for positive change in their community. On the other hand, it is indeed a very conservative town steeped in “traditional family values.” So for some people these have been issues, though most people are too polite to ever comment publicly about it.

DIFF: How was the process of filming in your old stomping ground?

JJ: Filming in East Texas gave us one surprise after another. We would walk down Commerce Street and literally every place we would pop into would provide us with another great character. Texas has the best and biggest personalities and East Texans definitely own that BIGNESS! While working in network news in New York for over 15 years, I always came back to Texas to find the best characters and most intriguing stories. You also cannot beat the landscape in Texas. From pine trees, to lakes, to wide open fields, Jacksonville provided the perfect set for us.

DIFF: Returning to your hometown after so many years, what was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the film?

JJ: Part of me was surprised at how little Jacksonville had changed in the 20 years since I had left. But once we dug deeper I was surprised again, that just below the surface there was a very progressive group of people who were passionate and open-minded about change for their town. This was one of the key issues we think all small towns face in America: “how do we stay rooted in tradition while also progressing toward the future?”

DIFF: Throughout the film, at almost every opportune moment, trains blare through Jacksonville, freezing everyone in their tracks. At times it’s comical, at other times it’s almost like a moment of silence or call to prayer. What would you say the train adds to the story?

JJ: Every single person in Jacksonville has a story about a train suddenly rolling through their most important moments. Every interview we did was interrupted by the train, but soon we realized that it was not an interruption. It’s part of the thread that unites the town, reminding them they share a common identity.

DIFF: What do you hope audiences will take away from watching TOMATO REPUBLIC?

JJ: We want audiences to see that in many ways, Jacksonville is like so many small towns in America, struggling to balance the past and future. We also want them to see what makes East Texas so unique and special, and the unique and passionate people that make it so. This group of people banded together into a true republic to make a difference in their town. My hope is that other small towns will follow suit.


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With 175 films and an Oscar to his credit, John Wayne is considered by many to be not only a great actor, but the American archetype.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the first African-American President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and only the third woman to hold the office.

John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy, is the recipient of the 2014 Texas Avery Animation Award presented by REEL FX.



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