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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

‘I’m With Phil’ records unlikely relief efforts

Local documentary “I’m With Phil” tells the story of how, in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornadoes, a group of people who share the name Phil Campbell all came together to help the town of Phil Campbell, Ala., in its time of need. The crew now looks to Kickstarter to help fund the film’s release and distribution.

A Phil Campbell Convention had already been in the works to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town’s incorporation when a tornado struck the small North Alabama town. Andrew Reed, filmmaker and director of “I’m With Phil,” is a native of the city and said he was working on a small movie about the upcoming Phil Campbell Convention at the time of the disaster.

“The week after, we really weren’t thinking about the film or the Phil Campbell Convention,” Reed said. “But Brooklyn Phil called me and said he’d been talking with some other Phils, he said they wanted to continue their trip. They still planned on coming in June but wanted to turn the convention into a relief effort.”

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The Phil Campbell relief effort was just the latest of several meetings of Phil Campbells in the Alabama town. Phil Campbell Conventions had been held since 1995, on and off again, with the attendance dropping year by year, but 2011’s effort pulled many back to Phil Campbell, Ala., including Phil Campbell of Birmingham, Ala.

“I was in college when I first found out about [The Phil Campbell Convention]. I got a card in the mail for the one that happened in 1997, but I hadn’t gone to any of them until I got a message from Brooklyn Phil on Facebook. That was the first one I went to, the one right after the storm,” said Phil Campbell of Birmingham, Ala.

At the Phil Campbell relief effort, the Phil Campbells involved worked in several different ways to help the community. The quirkiness of the event so shortly after the destruction brought significant media attention and several donations to the town. In terms of physical assistance, the Campbells worked to clear away some of the debris left over from the destruction and helped build a Habitat for Humanity house.

“My wife, a schoolteacher, helped out by collecting gift cards from her students,” said Phil Campbell of Birmingham, Ala. “Also, we cleaned up a couple of the lots while we were up there. After that was done with, Chattanooga Phil and I did some work on one of the Habitat Houses [in Phil Campbell, Ala.].”

These Phil Campbells hail from around the world, as far as Brooklyn, N.Y.; Juneau, Ark.; and Adelaide, Australia. They were all brought to Phil Campbell, Ala., by simple virtue of their name and a desire to help their fellow men and women. Andrew Reed, director of the documentary, said this is one of the more powerful themes of the film.

“A theme I think everyone can agree on is that it’s about people helping people and that when you’re given an opportunity to do some good, it’s your moral obligation as a human being to do that,” Reed said.

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Another strong lesson that Reed said he takes out of “I’m With Phil” as a Christian is that not everything in life is necessarily random, particularly the story of Phil Campbell.

“Now, while some of the Phils are not people of faith, and I don’t want to misrepresent them, [but] to me, everything that happened is more than coincidence, with the way certain things worked out,” Reed said. “Things worked out in such a way that people have an opportunity to do good if they want to, and they chose to do good.”

However, Reed said he does not want viewers to come into the documentary thinking it is a Christian film. He prefers to let the events shown speak for themselves and for viewers to draw their own conclusions, he said.

“It’s a film for everybody,” Reed said. “For me, it’s just a very strong subtext of the film. A lot of non-religious people that I’ve talked to have been surprised at how moving and strong this confluence of events can be.”

A Kickstarter campaign, ending Sunday, has the goal of funding the release and distribution of the documentary. While it has already reached its minimum funding goal, several stretch goals have been introduced that would serve to get the documentary onto video-on-demand platforms such as iTunes or Amazon. Anyone who wants to help fund “I’m With Phil” can donate on Kickstarter.

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