OC professor wins recognition for volunteer work

An assistant professor of mass communication at Odessa College, Harlan Whatley also manages and runs the annual West Texas Film Festival, something for which he recently won recognition in the form of the Mark Tenniswood Volunteer of the Year Award from Odessa Arts.
Tenniswood died in a car wreck in 2016 at age 49. He was the Permian Playhouse director and founder of Mark 10 Theatricals.
Odessa Arts Executive Director Randy Ham said Whatley was one of 11 who were honored. Ham added that no one is singled out above the others.
“Having said that, Harlan is an exceptional member of the creative community here, pulling together the West Texas Film Festival year after year. One thing that really sticks out to me is the fact that the festival screens films from all over the world. Many Odessans live below the poverty level and may never travel outside Texas. These films offer a way to bring new cultures and ideas to those who are not able to experience them firsthand,” Ham said.
Whatley appreciates what Ham and Odessa Arts offer to the city, as well.
“They do so much for the community here and I’ve never lived in a place where the arts organizations work so well together, so easily. …,” Whatley said.
Whatley said he received the same honor two years ago and would like to see other people in his organization honored.
“It’s very fulfilling to me to manage and run the film festival, but like every other event-driven organization, it’s nonprofit. You need as many people as you can. That’s been, I think, our effort this year is to get more people involved sooner, as opposed to waiting until the last minute. I’ve already got some good faculty people from OC and other departments helping me to read screenplays and TV scripts and watch short films and feature films …,” Whatley said.
He added that he thinks people enjoy watching the films and helping to decide which ones are selected for the festival.
“… It’s something that you probably might do anyway. You’d probably watch a film for entertainment. Sometimes these films come from other parts of the world, or some other university or college in Texas so I think for many people it’s fulfilling,” Whatley said.
The film festival this year will be Nov. 21 through Nov. 23 at the Jack Rodgers Auditorium on the OC campus. As of the afternoon of April 22, Whatley said there had been 18 submissions. The cut-off will probably be the third week in October.
Education Day, set for Nov. 22, usually attracts about 100 Ector County Independent School District students. He said they may try to get the Montessori Mastery School of Odessa students to come back.
With submissions from around the world, Whatley said there are people at OC who speak a variety of languages who can help him with the selection process of the foreign films.
An average of around 250 movies is submitted and volunteers are needed.
“Then we narrow it down to between 40 and 50. It’s a lot of screenings,” Whatley said.
The screenplay award is a one-year subscription to Final Draft software, which is what the people in Hollywood use to write their scripts.
“Then they get this opportunity from INKTIP, which is an online publication where you can feature the name of your story, the tagline and sort of a summary with it. A lot of producers that greenlight projects in Hollywood read this. If they’re interested, they might reach out to the writer. It’s exposure. I guess that’s the main thing,” Whatley said.
Along with the film festival, Whatley volunteers to show films at the Ellen Noel Art Museum.
Whatley earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Charleston and a master of fine arts from Hunter College in New York City. He recently finished a second master’s degree in English from the University of Texas Permian Basin.
He spent four years in China.
“After I got divorced, I went to St. Simons Island, where my mom had retired and my brother had a business …,” Whatley said.
He spent a year and a half there, but couldn’t get a teaching job.
“The economy was horrible around 2009-10. I said, ‘Well, I’ll just go to China.’ My nephew was teaching in Indonesia. It sounded interesting. I didn’t have any attachments … I kind of liked it, so I went back for another year. I worked for a Singaporean school and stayed a couple more years.”
After about four years, he decided he needed to make money. A new program was starting at a school north of Dubai, so he went there and wound up helping with their accreditation process.
He said he got the volunteering bug from his mother, who gave of her time to the symphony and her church in Shreveport, La., where he grew up. His mother also dealt in antiques and his father was a gourmet food broker.
As a youngster, he met pianist Van Kliburn, whose aunt lived in town.
Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher also lived in Shreveport.
“I would go on dates in high school to the symphony hall and I think I met Itzhak Perlman backstage one night,” Whatley said.