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Documenting the Human Spirit: Mary Beth Minnis on Her Film Career

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From executive producing the Emmy-winning Tower to working alongside Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, Mary Beth Minnis has dedicated her career to sharing stories of human connection.

By Gianni Zorrilla, Photos courtesy of Mary Beth Minnis

Mary Beth Minnis headshot - Austin Woman magazine

Producer Mary Beth Minnis majored in math. It was the unshakeable urge to tell a friend’s story that launched her into the world of documentary filmmaking. Several years and films later, her chance career transition has led to celebrity collaborations, award-winning projects and a passion for producing life-changing films. 

“When I studied math, I felt like I was learning how the world is connected,” Minnis says. “Really, math is symbolically representing how things relate to one another.” 

Little did she know her ultimate career path would embody the very same principle of connectedness—not between numbers, but people.

Following an invitation to the Dallas Film Festival by a good friend, Minnis began meeting people in the industry and she was asked to produce what would become Return to Mogadishu. Initial interest quickly morphed into an unstoppable, intrigue-driven snowball effect of opportunity. 

Minnis’ passion manifests across a spectrum of topics, ranging from basketball and refugees to music and working mothers, even to tragedy. While all different in topic, the common theme across the films she’s involved with is hope.

“I have just continued to meet people and realize that I love telling stories of hope in situations where it seems like it’s just hopeless,” Minnis says. “It’s really become a passion for me, and Austin is the perfect place to do it.”

An Oklahoma native, Minnis has lived in Austin for 12 years. 

“A lot of things that have happened for me have happened because I live in Austin,” she says. 

She credits the Austin Film Society as a key supporter of the films she’s worked on, especially with films Tower and Jump Shot, both of which premiered at South By Southwest with the latter making its national digital premiere April 16.

Regardless of success and experience garnered, Minnis never neglects the responsibility that comes with telling stories. 

“It feels like an honor anytime anybody will let you tell their story,” Minnis says, adding she and the filmmakers she works with hold subjects’ trust carefully.

When considering what to work on next, Minnis asks herself the following question: Do I think this story really needs to be told, and can I play a meaningful role in doing that?

“[So many of the stories] we’re inundated with by the media is everything that’s going wrong in the world,” she says. “So, to be able to tell stories of where things are going right is inspiring to people.” 

Tower, a documentary about the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas Minnis executive produced, focuses on the heroes of a terrible tragedy rather than the tragedy itself. With her positive mentality, Minnis acts as a mentor to aspiring filmmakers. 

“One of the things that I think makes a great producer is somebody who’s a leader,” she says. “You need to know where you’re headed and what it’s going to take to get there, and all along the way, you need to be resourceful and to solve problems.”

Minnis is no stranger to working with celebrities. When producing Jump Shot, she worked alongside NBA big shots Steph Curry and Kevin Durant to convey the story of Kenny Sailors, the esteemed inventor of the jump shot. While most can acknowledge the obvious about the basketball stars (tall, talented and thriving), Minnis also found them to be kind, generous and thoughtful. 

“Sometimes, when people have a lot of power or influence, they elevate themselves versus other people and you feel that, but I have never felt that with them,” Minnis says. “That just speaks to their character, and for them to lend their credibility and their voice to tell Kenny Sailors’ story just makes me so proud.”

This is only one of many stories enhanced by Minnis’ drive and creative vision. 

As for upcoming work, Minnis is an executive producer alongside Katie Couric on the film Clarkston, set to premiere in 2020. Clarkston, Ga., is often referred to as “the most diverse square mile in America.” Minnis calls it the “United Nations of the South,” as it provides housing for many refugees received by the state. 

“There’s no ethnic strife. There’s no religious strife. They’ve learned to live together,” Minnis says. “There’s something special that’s happening in this town.”

By telling the story of Clarkston through the eyes of several people, audiences will witness the collision of cultures and forging of unexpected friendships—even between a former white supremacist and a Muslim.

“We’re showing the world what’s possible,” Minnis says. 

The messages laced among the films Minnis has helped bring to the world transcend the topics at hand, veering toward the human experience itself. What matters most to Minnis is the universal connectedness audiences share when viewing these films and its capacity to make them walk away wanting to be better people. 

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