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Poplar Institute for Film: Amplifying Diverse Voices in Independent Filmmaking

Poplar Institute for Film: A Beacon of Diversity in Independent Filmmaking

Poplar Institute for Film - Amplifying Diverse Voices in Independent Filmmaking

Poplar Institute for Film, a St. Louis-based non-profit organization, is making waves in the independent film industry. Founded by Merlin Bell, the institute is dedicated to amplifying diverse voices through the development, promotion, and distribution of independent films and media. So far, it has served 15+ artists across 7 states, with 13+ projects either created or in various stages of development.

Inspiring Change: The Birth of Poplar Institute for Film

The idea for the Poplar Institute for Film sprouted from Merlin's desire to see positive representations of marginalized communities in the media. Particularly, as a black and gay individual, Merlin yearned to see individuals like himself portrayed positively. This desire led him to establish Poplar Institute as a reflection of the cultural richness of the St. Louis region, extending its reach to other diverse groups, such as the Latino, Asian, and other communities.

Poplar's Offerings: Services and Expertise

Poplar boasts a rich portfolio that spans branded content, art/music videos, educational/instructional videos, documentaries, and more. They offer a range of services from pre-production to post-production, providing mentorship and consultation to young filmmakers on their projects. They also offer professional experience opportunities to current college students and recent graduates. Through their film festival support program, they have had a combined total of 11 official selections, honorable mentions, and award-winning shorts in film festivals.

Currently, they have three films in preproduction, slated for production later this year and throughout 2024.

Building Community Through Filmmaking

The uniqueness of the Institute lies in its community-centric approach. They believe in community building through content creation for smaller organizations and mentoring up-and-coming filmmakers in developing and fostering their film and media projects. Poplar Institute stands out from its competitors by focusing on community building rather than competition. They connect with their community by participating in networking events, community functions, and sharing resources.

Highlighting the Black American Experience: 'Love Thy Neighbor'

One of the standout projects from the Poplar Institute is a feature film titled 'Love Thy Neighbor'. This film, written and directed by the institute's first filmmaker-in-residence, Philip Irving, explores the death of a Baptist family’s matriarch and how the family members deal with grief and guilt. The story highlights the challenges of navigating Black love in a capitalist world driven by white supremacy, patriarchy, and exploitation, posing essential questions about the Black American dream and its accessibility. What makes this project special is its alignment with Poplar Institute's principles and its focus on the middle-class, Black American Experience.

Future Plans: Expanding Horizons

The Poplar Institute for Film has ambitious plans for the future. They aim to expand their current programming with the filmmaker in residence program and distribution support, and branch out into a multimedia organization under the umbrella of Poplar Media. Spearheaded by Vice President Christen Griffin, Poplar Media will focus on music and literary programming. They look forward to sharing their unique music and collaborating with other communities in St. Louis to amplify the distinct sounds that St. Louis has to offer.

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