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Olivet professor and his wife will debut film at ArtPrize this weekend
Sep 10, 2012

Originally published by the Lansing State Journal

Written by Rachel Greco

Gary Smith and his wife Mary Jo Ramsey-Smith think there’s truth behind the idea that our world has a soul.

Smith, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at Olivet College, and his wife both live in Battle Creek but grew up in Virginia. It is a shared love of both the landscape there and the simpler way of life that gave way to their first film collaboration.

In the couple’s 65-minute film “Soul Tenders,” which chronicles the lives of nine women who profess a need to live in time with nature, it’s clear that the scenery is as much a star as the people they document.

The film, shot in eight different states, took a year and a half to create and is now an official entry in the annual Grand Rapids ArtPrize open competition. From Sept. 16 to Oct. 7 it will be shown along with 1,517 entries in and around the city.

Personal effort

Ramsey-Smith said the undertaking was a personal one. Many of the women spotlighted in the film have been friends of hers for over 20 years.

The camera captures their daily lives as midwives, healers and mothers. It also explores their views about everything from home births to natural medicine.

“They live really differently,” said Ramsey-Smith. “Their lives are very different. When I’m with these people it’s like breathing deeper.”

But Smith said many of the women they spent time with advocate ideas that more people are embracing these days. The Smiths themselves opted for a home birth with their child and both believe a closer connection to nature feeds the soul.

“One of the main messages is, ‘Don’t give away your power,’” said Smith. “The theme is, somebody’s got to tend the soul of the planet. The world is a living thing.”

The couple began filming the project in 2010, shooting in Virginia, New Mexico, Traverse City and even in Battle Creek. The 36 hours of tape they shot included Ramsey-Smith’s interviews and music – she scored the film, as well.

Smith, who won an honorable mention for his first documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2010, stayed behind the camera.

Ramsey-Smith said the women they focused on opened up their lives to the couple. The end result is something the couple hopes they can share with larger audiences.

“One of the things we said was, it’s time to tell stories about people that inspire us,” said Smith.

Competing for votes

ArtPrize will represent “Soul Tenders” debut. Touted as the world’s largest art competition, the top prize is determined by public vote.

Entries that range from sculptures to paintings to photography and film will be displayed or shown at 161 venues within three square miles of the city during the festival.

“Soul Tenders” will be shown at the First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids throughout the duration of the festival.

Participants can vote either on-line or via text message but must first visit the festival Web site at

Those interested in getting a glimpse of what “Soul Tenders” has to offer can view the nine-minute trailer on You Tube at

Ramsey-Smith said the film is just the start of the couple’s collaborations in film. They are already working on a new concept.

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