Reversing the Mississippi director Ian Midgley and subject Marcin Jakubowski. (Reversing the Mississippi / Facebook)
When filmmaker Ian Midgley set out in search of a subject, he had no idea that he would wind up a matchmaker. But matchmake he did, forging a connection between two young changemakers working in the Katrina-ravaged southeastern United States. Midgley’s new film, Reversing the Mississippi, tells the story of two men—scientist-inventor Marcin Jakubowski and teacher Nat Turner—united by a passion for expanding access to economic opportunity.
Midgley met Jakubowki first. The physics PhD and TED fellow was living in rural Missouri on Factor e Farm, a living laboratory for his life’s work: re-engineering life-sustaining machines to allow anyone to build them using basic tools and materials. To create the open-source Global Village Construction Set, Jakubowski relied on the time and energy of a motley crew of volunteers. Despite Jakubowski’s good intentions—and the huge media attention Factor e Farm generated—the project had stalled, the overworked volunteers increasingly disgruntled with their leader’s detached management style. "If he took time to consider it, he would be glad that I was here," remarked a member of Jakubowski's crew. "But I don't think he's taken that time."
Enter Nat Turner. A former New York City schoolteacher who resigned following controversy involving a trip to Cuba with some of his students and their parents, Turner responded to news of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation by packing a school bus and driving to New Orleans. There he established Our School at Blaire Grocery, an alternative school and sustainability education center in the Lower Ninth Ward. Students at Our School learn the fundamentals of urban farming and career skills in addition to preparing for the GED. When Midgley told Turner about Factor e Farm, the teacher was intrigued enough to travel to Missouri in search of new machinery for his agriculture program.
Midgley’s film documents Jakubowski and Turner’s fruitful knowledge exchange. What began as a quest for technical assistance quickly evolved into much more. Turner, too, had had experience with the tricky transition from visionary to staff leader. And beyond the nitty-gritty of organizational operations, the men shared a commitment to realizing the seemingly impossible. “The work that we’re doing is like what it would take to reverse the flow of the Mississippi River,” said Turner. “That’s how big it was.”
Reversing the Mississippi premiered October 19 at the New Orleans Film Festival. A Williamsburg, Brooklyn showing is scheduled for Saturday, November 21 at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art. Learn more on the film’s website.