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VOL. 119 | NO. 161 | Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Spotlight Brightens on Memphis Cinema

Nonprofit group to host second-annual film retrospective

By Andy Meek

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GLORY DAYS: Malcolm Pratt displays relics of classic cinema. Cinema Memphis hosts its second annual film retrospective this month at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

Like an independent film competing for attention during Oscar season, Malcolm Pratt's relatively new cinema group might seem overshadowed by other big screen efforts in Memphis.

Just two weeks ago, a public casting call was held for "Black Snake Moan," the latest Hollywood production by Memphis writer and director Craig Brewer. Later this year, the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line," also shot in Memphis, opens in theaters. But Pratt's nonprofit group - Cinema Memphis - is more concerned with shining a spotlight on the classics.

Next month, Cinema Memphis returns to the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts to unveil a new film retrospective, following the success of last year's "The Magic & Humanity: A Celebration of the Amazing Films of Powell & Pressburger." Education and awareness about classic films is a major part of the three-day event, which includes lectures and question-and-answer sessions before each film showing.

Generating support. Through the yearly event, Pratt said the 501(c)3 organization is slowly generating major support. The Tennessee Arts Commission has contributed grant money, and Pratt has received support from Humanities Tennessee, as well. Something else that might boost the group's recognition is the special guest at this year's event: film critic and historian David Thomson.

"The New York Times Book Review has called him the best film critic in the English language," Pratt said.

Thomson will give a free lecture on Howard Hawks, the featured director at this year's event, on Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Buckman Center at St. Mary's Episcopal School. Pratt said the retrospective will focus entirely on Hawks' well-known films, including "His Girl Friday," starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and "The Big Sleep," with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

"Cinema Memphis really looks to present these great films in the way they really should be seen. Last year, people sent us some unsolicited thank-you notes, thanking us for doing this for Memphis and saying what a great thing it was - also that it added to the cosmopolitan flavor of Memphis."
- Malcolm Pratt
founder, Cinema Memphis

Increasing appreciation. Hosting the event at the Cannon Center, Pratt explained, is an attempt to recapture the atmosphere generated at some of the grand movie palaces that once existed in Memphis - Loew's Palace and the Warner, for example. And that is in line with the group's mission statement, which reads in part that Cinema Memphis is dedicated to increasing awareness, appreciation and understanding in Memphis of major achievements in the history of cinema.

"It's a very expensive operation to do this on this scale at the Cannon Center, but I just think that's the way to see great films," Pratt said. "To see them in a beautiful theater on a huge screen with lots of people, that's kind of the goal and mission of this group. Cinema Memphis really looks to present these great films in the way they really should be seen.

"Last year, people sent us some unsolicited thank-you notes, thanking us for doing this for Memphis and saying what a great thing it was - also that it added to the cosmopolitan flavor of Memphis. It went very smoothly, and we're hoping to do some of the same things this year."

Shining the spotlight. Cynthia Saatkamp, a partner with Hemline Creative Marketing LLC, said Hemline is working to raise the event's profile in Midtown and Downtown, as well as among the business community.

"This year, we're really trying to make sure that everybody knows that this event is going to be happening right at their back door, and we have a little more experience with it and are getting everything into the market a little earlier and generating some good awareness for it," she said. "We started working with Malcolm last year when he did his premiere event, and we helped him do all that.

"And each year we hope to grow the event, so with that comes additional marketing needs that we're trying to help him out with. Right now, we're in the middle of actually securing our partners and sponsors for this event, to try and make it not a cookie-cutter sort of deal."

Initial success. For 2004's retrospective, Cinema Memphis showcased six films at the Cannon Center from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Thelma Schoonmaker, acclaimed film editor for director Martin Scorsese, lectured and answered questions during the retrospective. Schoonmaker was married to Powell for the last six years of his life - and, incidentally, won an Oscar for her work on "The Aviator" a few months after her Memphis appearance.

Pratt previously served on the board of directors of the nonprofit Memphis Film Forum before breaking off to establish Cinema Memphis.

"This year's event is similar in form to last year's in that we're going to honor a particular filmmaker, the legendary American director Howard Hawks," Pratt said. "He made just some amazing films, a variety of films in the '40s through the '60s, with just some landmark performances by some screen legends.

"The goal is to sort of make this thing a more active organization throughout the year and ideally have screenings throughout the year - maybe at a smaller venue with sort of a local lecture/discussion kind of thing. But the major thing is the retrospective, and that just takes up a tremendous amount of time to pull that thing off - getting the films, getting the guests and getting the funding, as well as the grants and doing the marketing."

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