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VOL. 126 | NO. 67 | Wednesday, April 06, 2011

On Location: Memphis Showcases Local, International Films

JONATHAN DEVIN

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In the business of film festivals, international films bring prestige, but local films bring dollars.

This year’s 12th annual On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival, Thursday through Sunday, hopes to draw on the best of both worlds.

“Most of the people I’ve met seem to like Memphis,” said Steven Snyder, programming chair for On Location: Memphis, referring to out-of-town filmmakers, directors and actors who have attended the festival in the past.

“They tend to associate Memphis with Elvis, so they really want to go to Graceland. But we do have a reputation. The film festival as a whole is really hospitable toward our guests, and we do a lot to make them feel at home and help them warm up to Memphis.”

This year’s festival includes international submissions such as “The Whistleblower” from Canada and Germany, “Four Roses” from Belgium and “The Last Elephant in Thailand” from Thailand.

Snyder said some of the international casts and crews will actually make the trip to Memphis for their screenings and to participate in forums and parties that make the festival a community.

Among those will be director/producer Danielle French of Alberta, Canada, whose short, music-oriented film called “To The Death” will premiere at the festival. It is her first trip to Memphis.

In the film, a young woman in a cabaret is introduced to the personification of her own internal archetypes through a tarot card reading and haunted by her shadow self.

“It’s drawn on the principal of Jungian psychology where all the characters in our dreams are aspects of our own psyche,” French said.

The film will also be screened the same weekend in Providence, R.I.

Snyder said he expects “tons of people” from Canada to attend as a result of the film, but he noted that much of the festival’s contributions to the Memphis film community come from marketing Memphis as a film location.

That, after all, is where the connections are made that lead to deals.

Memphis earned status as a top competitor for big studio films after a string of John Grisham films such as “The Firm” and “The Client” were shot in town. Then Craig Brewer’s films “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan” followed suit.

Brewer inspired young Memphian filmmakers such as the grassroots groups 48 Hour Film Launch and Fuel Films, which collaborated to produce five short films, all completed from the initial pitch to post-production work in 48 hours.

One of the five, “Feedback,” starring Memphian Anthony Nguyen, will be screened at the festival.

In it, Nguyen portrays a young man who is constantly distracted by his smart phone to the point that his personal relationships deteriorate due to his obsession with online connection.

Of the festival, Nguyen said it is an important step for young filmmakers like “Feedback” director Kate Alex to stand their work up against other well-received films.

“It’s a community event,” Nguyen said. “Most of these projects started from scratch. The directors and screenwriters that came in did so with just their scripts. Then we stepped in and picked up a role. It’s about giving something a try and having fun with it.”

The festival will also offer “Dancing on the Volcano” by University of Memphis film professor Steven Ross, and two others by university students.

French was also lured to Memphis by the festival’s focus on music since her film’s concept developed from one of her original songs.

“I’m not in (the film), it’s not a commercial for the song, and it’s not an MTV kind of thing,” French said. “The film has a narrative and the visuals stand on their own even though it’s attached to the song.”

“This year, we’re trying to incorporate music more,” said Snyder. “We have three music documentaries being screened. We’ve also partnered with Film Access Music, and their job is to hook up musicians with filmmakers because music is a big part of films.”

A workshop offered during the festival will also help filmmakers discuss having the right balance between too little music and too much. The festival comes at a time when Memphis’ film industry is dancing back and forth between wins and losses.

The Academy Award-winning Sandra Bullock film “The Blind Side” was filmed in Georgia despite being set in Memphis. Georgia’s state tax incentive package was greater than Tennessee’s.

But then “The Grace Card,” a smaller-budget film directed by Memphian optometrist David Evans, brought in more than $1 million nationwide in its first weekend, and critical acclaim in national publications.

Also, the sleeper hit “Undefeated,” about three Memphis high school football stars, was made with assistance from the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission. “Undefeated” recently premiered at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Shortly thereafter, The Weinstein Co. closed a remake deal for seven figures.

Snyder hopes that some of the major producers coming to the festival, such as the makers of “Win-Win,” starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, will see the in-town successes and make mental notes for future films.

“(‘Win-Win’) played at Sundance and South by Southwest,” Snyder said. “It’s a big film for us and they asked us to screen it at the festival. Our reputation is growing, and that means a lot to us.”

A full schedule of films is at www.onlocationmemphis.org/filmfest.

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