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VOL. 118 | NO. 168 | Thursday, September 16, 2004

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By Andy Meek

Citys Budding Film Industry Gets Boost

Studio commitment marks new step for Memphis


The Daily News

Its no secret Memphis is becoming a movie industry magnet.

And thanks to a trio of veteran filmmakers, a Memphis film group and a historically inclined movie fan, a number of unrelated efforts are under way to continue Memphis progression from the city famous for Beale Street and barbecue to a lure for filmmakers and movie fans.

One of the biggest efforts in progress is the creation of Crunk Pictures, an outlet for veteran producers Stephanie Allain, John Singleton and Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer to join forces on future movie projects in Memphis. The company, based in Los Angeles, already has worked with Brewer on his film Hustle & Flow, which recently finished shooting in Memphis.

A major commitment. Memphis and Shelby County Film Commissioner Linn Sitler said the creation of Crunk Pictures marks a major studio commitment in the city.

The commitment is there, as much as a commitment can be made in the uncertain film business to do more movies here, Sitler said. What they would do would be to come back and forth, like they came here for pre-production, production and wrap-up for Hustle & Flow. And then once they raised the money for other films, they would come back and set up shop.

Allains film work includes Biker Boyz and Muppets in Space, and Singleton is known for films such as Boyz N the Hood and Higher Learning. Brewers film Hustle & Flow, which featured a cast of well-known actors including Anthony Anderson and Taryn Manning, is scheduled for release in theaters next spring.

Coming back. Sitler said the companys major commitment comes in the form of the groups intention to return to Memphis. That marks a difference from the way filmmakers traditionally have worked in the city, she said.

For instance, Walk the Line came here only to do Walk the Line, Sitler said.

Along with groups such as Crunk Pictures, Sitler said the city and county film commission attracts and works with a number of large productions in the city. In the groups history, the film commission has worked on films including The Firm in 1993, The People vs. Larry Flynt in 1996 and, more recently, 21 Grams in 2003 along with Hustle & Flow and Walk the Line.

Honoring the arts. But in addition to attracting filmmakers to the city, Memphis film buff Malcolm Pratt has founded an organization devoted exclusively to showcasing great works in the history of film. Later this month, his group Cinema Memphis will show six historical films from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

Pratt, who previously served on the board of directors of another Memphis nonprofit organization, the Memphis Film Forum, broke away recently to establish Cinema Memphis and began planning the Powell and Pressburger retrospective. Films to be shown include The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

In 2003, I made the decision that in order to do this thing, it didnt make as much sense to do it through the Film Forum, so I established a new organization to showcase great works in the history of film, Pratt said.

Big event. Titled The Magic & Humanity: A Celebration of the Amazing Films of Powell & Pressburger, the showing that runs Sept. 24-26 also will bring two notable guests to Memphis. Thelma Schoonmaker, acclaimed film editor for director Martin Scorsese, is scheduled to speak and answer questions during the retrospective. Schoonmaker was married to Powell for the last six years of his life.

I called Thelma at Scorseses production office back in 1998 and told her my dream and my passion, Pratt said. I asked what her level of interest would be in doing this, and she said, Extremely high.

Singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, an avid Powell and Pressburger fan whose music has appeared in the John Cusack film High Fidelity, also will be in town for the event. Prior to the showcase, Harding will perform a tribute concert for the filmmakers Sept. 23 at the Gibson Lounge, during which he will perform a medley of his favorite songs featured in the filmmakers movies.

He is a tremendous enthusiast of their films, and he wanted to pay tribute to them in a special way, Pratt said.

Future plans. Pratt said he hopes to put together similar retrospectives annually honoring other directors and actors in cinema history. For him, the showings are a throwback to the golden age of cinema he experienced as a teenager, when he frequented the movie palaces that filled Downtown in the 1960s and 1970s.

There was a time when huge movie palaces were common, and I just think thats the best experience, he said.

At the end of the month, Pratt will help others relive that experience at the Cannon Center. He is enthusiastic about audience reaction to the movies, which he said have changed the lives of a number of artists and influenced the arts for more than 30 years.

I hope people will embrace this and take the opportunity to come see the films, he said. Theres no filler here. Theyre all widely considered among the greatest films of all time.


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