Sundance Film Festival: 'Mr. Okra' among bevy of Sundance shorts

Published: Friday, Jan. 29 2010 12:26 p.m. MST

T.G. Herrington

Provided by Sundance, All

PARK CITY — As filmmaker T.G. Herrington got to know Arthur "Mr. Okra" Robinson in New Orleans, he figured there was a story to tell.

It turned out moviegoers loved Herrington's resulting short film "Mr. Okra" at the 2009 Austin Film Festival, where it won an audience award.

Now the endearing 12-minute documentary is making the rounds at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

"It's been really well-received. We're super happy," Herrington told the Deseret News.

For Sundance, Herrington's work was mined from 6,092 short films submitted for the 2010 festival, and it's one of only a handful of documentary shorts at Sundance this year. It's also available on YouTube in case you can't catch it during the festival.

Earlier this week, Herrington said "Mr. Okra" had been viewed about 1,000 times on YouTube.

In "Mr. Okra," Herrington follows Robinson on an off-the-beaten path peek into the everyday side of New Orleans.

But there's nothing ho-hum about Robinson. He's a little like a Santa Claus: fat, jolly, gray beard, loved by all and very mobile in a funky truck that has become his signature.

After Hurricane Katrina, Robinson says in the film that people were leaving messages on discarded old appliances for Mr. Okra to come back into their neighborhood.

Herrington had seen Robinson here and there throughout his childhood when he spent summers with different family members scattered around New Orleans. He considers Robinson family.

Any money "Mr. Okra" makes will be shared with Robinson. Herrington also set up a nonprofit group to raise money for a new pickup truck, which an artist named Dr. Bob will repaint to retain that Mr. Okra look people know so well.

And if plans to make "Mr. Okra" part of a larger series of unique New Orleans characters pans out, Robinson will get a share of the proceeds from that, too.

Herrington laughs when he recalls that the biggest cost to shoot "Mr. Okra" ended up being repairs on Robinson's pickup. Making the documentary cost about $5,000.

"I have oranges and bananas!" Robinson says in a singsong voice over a loudspeaker from inside his old beater while driving through the 9th Ward.

Bright paint covers rust spots with phrases like "Be nice or leave" and "Refresh Yoself!" A homemade roof covers the produce in the back of the truck — sales are cash only.

Sadly, Robinson has health issues that kept him from being at the festival with Herrington. "He's very special to us," Herrington said.

"We're getting great feedback from people who specialize in distributing short films," he added.

Herrington said his most memorable moment during the festival came from Robert Redford, who spoke to a group of directors. Redford said he started the Sundance Institute to give a forum for telling stories that may not have a commercially viable hook but that nonetheless are deeply personal and meaningful and need to be told.

"That was absolutely inspirational to me," Herrington said. "And to see what he's gone on to achieve from that."

e-mail: saspeckman@yahoo.com

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