JACKSON — When former Chicagoan Anita Modak-Truran made her way to Jackson in 1998, it was as an attorney. Today she is also known as a filmmaker and humanitarian.
Modak-Truran recently finished a documentary on Southern belles and has joined forces with Wiser Women Inc., a volunteer support group at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Wiser Women Hospital for Women and Infants, to honor women and create the Belle Grant. The Belle Grant was designed to fund research to better women’s health.
Modak-Truran’s film, “Belles & Whistles: A Northern Woman’s Journey into Southern Femdom,” will premier April 6 at Crossroads Film Festival, and on April 20 there will be a special showing at the Wiser Women fundraiser at New Stage Theatre.
“I don’t think enough people know about Wiser Women,” Modak-Truran said. “That’s the best thing that could happen is to get people involved in working on these kinds of issues.”
She hopes the film will highlight the work of Wiser Women, which provides everything from one-on-one support to women hospitalized at UMC to necessities not covered by other funding sources. Items provided range from clothing for rape victims to videotape players for medical professionals to show patients films about their medical conditions.
Cynthia Wall, who helped come up with the idea for the documentary, called the relationship between filmmaker and nonprofit agency “a unique collaboration.”
The process of making “Belles & Whistles,” which started in 1999, has been a long one, Modak-Truran said.
“Coming from the North I was really interested in the myth of the Southern belle and whether or not the Southern belle still existed today,” she said. “I looked at all kinds of women.”
And while Southern belles, Modak-Truran discovered, have such characteristics as graciousness, a sense of humor and inner beauty, she believes today’s Southern belle is much more complicated “because our culture has become much more complicated.”
The Mississippi Arts Commission and the Jackson-Hinds County Arts Commission both provided grants for the making of the film, and that is something that remains important to Modak-Truran.
“They reaffirmed that this is a project that should be made,” she said. “It’s light. Hopefully people will find it humorous. I find it empowering.”
Nina Parikh, producer of “Belles & Whistles,” hopes people who see the documentary realize that Southern belles come from all types of backgrounds.
“Maybe there isn’t so much a definition,” Parikh said. “I think our American society, we already create boundaries on what’s beautiful. We’re constantly fighting the battle that we’re too fat. I think it’s the same for the Southern belle. Hopefully this film will show that a Southern belle can be anyone, and it’s not necessarily a negative thing. I think Southern belle has a negative connotation and I think this film shows the diversity of opinion.”
Parikh also hopes that through “Belles & Whistles,” enough interest can be created in Wiser Women to raise more money for research on women and children’s health issues.
Crossroads Film Festival will show documentaries, feature, student, short, animated and experimental films at United Artists Parkway Place and New Stage Theatre April 4-7. Festival director Ferrell Tadlock said one of the objectives of the festival is to highlight local filmmakers and films that view Mississippi in a positive light.
“Belles & Whistles,” Tadlock said, shows much more than just the Southern belle myth.
“It’s a personal film in addition to being a solid work highlighting diversity in terms of women and how they relate to society,” he said.
Jean Kelly, director of business services for the OB-GYN department at UMC and the treasurer for Wiser Women, hopes that “Belles & Whistles,” aside from raising awareness of what Wiser Women does, also catches the attention of potential volunteers for the group.
“There are some important things we want to accomplish,” Kelly said. “There are so many talented people in Jackson we could put to good use out here. I hope those people will come and try to see what we’re doing.”
Anyone who makes a $20 or more donation to the Wiser Women/Belle Grant will receive a certificate for the belle in their lives. The 8.5 by 11-inch certificate names the nominee as a true Southern belle and lists the name of the person who nominated them. Belles’ names can also be posted to the “Belles & Whistles” Web site.
Those wishing to designate belles can make donations directly to the Wiser Women/Belle Grant, Attn: Jean Kelly, University of Mississippi Medical Center, OB-GYN, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, Miss. 39216-4525. Checks should be made payable to Wiser Women/Belle Grant. An award to fund research will be made through the UMC Grants office. Nomination forms can be downloaded at the “Belles & Whistles” Web site: www.bellesandwhistles.net. Or call Jean Kelly’s office at (601) 984-5302 to have a form mailed to your address. Seventeen dollars of each $20 donation is tax deductible.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com.