A documentary featuring the Jasper Mall, which was premiered earlier this year at an independent film festival, will be released today (Tuesday, June 23) for download and on DVD and Blu-ray.
Beginning at the end of 2018, Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb spent nearly a year filming hours of footage at Jasper Mall to document the day-to-day routine at one of few shopping malls left in the country.
Houston natives Thomason and Whitcomb created Window Pictures to produce nostalgic films. Both now live in Birmingham and traveled north each day to Walker County to film at Jasper Mall, which seemed to fit the bill in its resemblance to the malls of their childhood.
"All of our films, if you look at them, they're somehow connected to things from our childhood, things we're nostalgic for. I think malls fall into that film category," Thomason told the Daily Mountain Eagle. "Brett and I grew up going to different malls in Houston. Some of them are doing OK and some of them aren't. I think all over the country malls are fading away a little bit. Feeling nostalgic for them, we wanted to go and see what life looks like in a dying mall."
"It also had an aesthetic that we like," Whitcomb said of Jasper Mall. "It was preserved in an '80s, '90s sort of look. It had the real plants inside and a fountain, so it looked like the malls from our youth, whereas other malls might be updated to feel modern. I think we both just enjoyed walking around the mall and being there."
Whitcomb says "Jasper Mall" is more observational, rather than conversational, but a Jack-of-all-trades at the mall who does housekeeping, maintenance, security and other tasks is shown throughout the film.
"He's definitely the tour guide, but for this film, we tried to do it as observational as possible. We tried to just be there for as long as we could, 10 hours a day and just hang out," Whitcomb said, adding that he and Thomason waited for moments to present, rather than filming arranged scenes. "We're big fans of documentaries that are purely just observational."
While shooting, the filmmakers spent quality time with business owners, including Robin Robinson, who was preparing to close her business, Robin's Nest, at the time.
"I really enjoyed seeing Robin and the pride that she had for her business. She was in this mall for 20 plus years, and our timing worked out for the film because she was planning on retiring anyway. She didn't close because she didn't have any business," Whitcomb said. "I haven't ever spent that much time with somebody that's had a business for that long and put that much of her life into it. It was really interesting, and there was a lot of time spent there that I won't forget."
"Jasper Mall" premiered in January of this year at Slamdance Film Festival, a 25-year-old film festival held in Park City, Utah, down the street from the Sundance Film Festival. The film is nearly an hour and a half and costs $6.99 to purchase on iTunes.
Thomason said they have received a positive response from the film, and he and Whitcomb are looking forward to Walker Countians seeing the documentary about a longtime fixture in the Jasper community.
"People who are interested in things like dying shopping malls gravitate towards this kind of content, and I think what makes the film unique and what makes people like it is that we actually talk to people in the mall and get to know some different characters, and most people responded positively to it," Thomason said.
Whitcomb added, "The main goal is to just get it out in the world so people can start seeing it. We're anxious to see what the response is."
A trailer for the film can be found at www.jaspermallmovie.com, where a link is provided to pre-order "Jasper Mall."
Jasper Mall is also available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon.
Since "Jasper Mall" was filmed in 2018 and 2019, more stores have continued to close in the shopping mall; however, some longtime tenants remain, as well as the mall's anchor store, Belk.