A flamboyant restaurateur, a good ol’ boy and a political ingénue walk into a small town political contest and compete head to head…to head, for a non-paid mayoral seat of the Tomato Republic. What happens next is anyone’s guess. The only thing that could slow this race down is a freight train. Let the takeover begin.


Tomato Republic is a marvel. Unlike any other documentary I have ever seen, it takes its audience striaght into the glorious, laugh-out-loud eccentricities of small-town Texas life. The film, which follows a mayoral race in the East Texas town of Jacksonville, is full of characters that seem to have sprung straight from a novelist’s imagination. But the fact is that everyone in Tomato Republic is very real, their off-the-cuff comments completely unscripted. Just wait until you see the county judge talking about how he judges food contests. Or the mayoral candidate waxing philosophical about politics while he scratches the chin of a dog sitting on his lap. Or the townspeople who go “mudding.” And then there are the railroad trains that constantly roar through town, the blare of the locomotives’ horns interrupting everyone in mid-sentence. By the end of the movie, I was just shaking my head in wonder.

Tomato Republic is one of my diamond in the rough finds of the year. A well put together documentary at its core, you’ll also find yourself emotionally invested in every character of the film

Deep down in East Texas off Route 79, way back up in the woods among a curtain of pines, there sits a small town with a charming feel, a republic of tomatoes known as Jacksonville, that hasn’t really yet had the chance to grow, but still yearns to overturn the ol’ status quo.

Way out in East Texas at the corner of Route 69 and 79 lies the small town Jacksonville, otherwise known as the “Tomato Republic.” With a mayoral election fast approaching, three very different candidates throw their hats into the ring, and the town is left to choose between a flamboyant restaurateur, a good ol’ boy and a political ingénue. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

People still don’t know where Jacksonville, Texas is, but hopefully they will have a better idea after this film. If we do anything to bring awareness to people that this is a real special place, with great people, who care about the future, then we have accomplished what we set out to do.

Jacksonville in East Texas is the kind of small town that the 2012 feature film Bernie was about: Slow-paced, neighborly … and crazy as all hell. The town, best known for its tomatoes (the way Tyler is known for its roses) is proud that it’s not like the rest of America, where liberalism and diversity threaten old-fashioned Bible Belt bigotry. OK, maybe that’s not how they’d put it (though one resident resignedly calls the region “to the right of Attila the Hun”).

In the crumbling small town of Jacksonville, known as the Tomato Capital of Texas, a speeding train is coming — not the frequent trains residents hear almost continually, but a heated mayoral race.

That’s the premise of Tomato Republic, a documentary featurette that premiered at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), where it won a special jury award.

The Tomato Republic is a 63 minute, skillfully made documentary film that covers the 2013 mayoral election in Jacksonville, Texas. The film crew skillfully follows the activities of one citizen who attempts to revitalize a conservative East Texas town that is 30 miles inside the Pine Curtain.

Way out in East Texas amongst the pine trees, at the corner of Route 69 and 79, lies Jacksonville, otherwise known as the “Tomato Republic.” While its humble residents love their fair town, documentarians Jenna Jackson, Anthony Jackson, and Whitney Graham Carter show us that residents aren’t looking to go along to get along anymore.

About 300 people attended the screening of “Tomato Republic” during the Nacogdoches Film Festival on Friday, including Rob Gowin and Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis — two of the main characters in the documentary. Gowin was one of three people in 2013 to run for mayor in Jacksonville. The incumbent, Kenneth Melvin, defeated the restaurateur in a runoff after both garnered enough votes to eliminate a third candidate, William Igbokwe.

I spoke with the director of Tomato Republic, Jenna Jackson.

On the idea behind Tomato Republic:

It came out of the blue.  I am from Jacksonville – graduated high school there 20+ years ago.  I hadn’t been back a lot, but since my family doesn’t live there anymore, I only go back every once in a while.

Jacksonville, TX stars in Tomato Republic, a documentary film that depicts the mayoral race between three very different characters. Who will the town choose? Documentarians Jenna Jackson, Anthony Jackson, and Whitney Graham Carter shine a light on the thoughts and feelings of Jacksonville residents.

The 73-year-old incumbent Kenneth Melvin was challenged by 44-year-old restaurateur Rob Gowin and 23-year-old political science graduate William Igbokwe.

The political race ended with Melvin defeating Gowin in a runoff race, but the documentary delves deeper than the politics of the town.

Cast & Crew

Gerry Stovall Judge Chris Davis Rob Gowin Lindsey Terry Candy Butt Chuck Hopson Darron Baxter James Foster Lewis Lake Mike McEwan Lindsey McRae Mayor Kenneth Melvin Pat Graham Price Allem Douglas Allem Chris Richey Jan Gowin Stephanie Webb David Myers Dr. Sam Hopkins Becky Hesterley Mark Kerzee William Igbokwe Austin Witherspoon Kirk Sadler Billy Bateman Russell White Amy Brocato Pearson Robin ‘Boogie’ Butt “Shamrock” Shelly Cleaver Billie Hopson Flossie Barker Joyce Stripling Caesar Roy


Directors Whitney Graham Carter, Jenna Jackson, Anthony Jackson, Editor, Producer David Hobbs Cinematographer Matt Godwin Executive Producer Kelli Weinzierl Camera Operator Adrian Garcia Camera Operator Nathan Fambro Boom Operator Pierre Cardenas Colorist, Assistant Editor Sam Butler Sound Editor Chris “Digismitty” Smith Associate Producer Matt Garner Associate Producer Lauryn Sanford Associate Producer Matt Wilkerson Art Director Bryan Martin Graphic Designer Marty Merida Production Assistant Kayla Carter Production Assistant Foster Carter Production Assistant Casey Hobbs Production Assistant Suzanne Jackson Production Assistant Jacquelyn Matthews


A special thank you to James Faust, Sarah Harris and the entire DIFF team for an incredible week.

A big thank you to Tanya Foster (www.TanyaFoster.net) for being the most amazing hostess and advocate — and to Suzanne Droese for being the best PR maven in the business. (www.DroesePR.com)

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