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VOL. 123 | NO. 189 | Friday, September 26, 2008

Memphis Silver Screen World Has Champion in Edwards

By Andy Meek

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
Position: Board of directors member, former director
Company: Indie Memphis Film Festival
Basics: Edwards led the festival for more than a decade until turning over the reins this year to a new executive director.
“We thought there was a market for independent movies here.”
– Les Edwards

In the late 1990s, Les Edwards was close to parlaying his love of independent and art-house films into something tangible that all of Midtown Memphis could appreciate: a new Midtown cinema.

A former executive at a Memphis medical company, Edwards and his wife, Emily Trenholm, had lined up the financing, hired an architect and began getting the zoning variances they needed for what they envisioned would be a three-screen movie theater. A verbal commitment was secured for space on Madison Avenue next to what today is Neil’s bar.

Labor of love

But also being pursued around that time was an effort by Malco Theatres to build its own cinema in Midtown. Edwards ultimately decided that was the more viable concept, so he looked for another outlet into which he could pour his affection for the film industry.

“We thought there was a market for independent movies here, and obviously Malco is smarter than we were about movie exhibition and were better equipped to do that,” Edwards said.

His plan for a theater may have been tabled, but Edwards has spent much of his time since then promoting a film-related venture much of Memphis can appreciate.

Not long after his attempt to develop a Midtown theater was shelved, Edwards and his wife took the reins of the Indie Memphis Film Festival, an organization they ultimately directed for more than a decade. The festival, which kicks off its 11th annual run in October, hired this year its first executive director, Erik Jambor. He came to Indie Memphis via a chance meeting with Edwards at a conference in Las Vegas.

Edwards and Trenholm are still on the Indie Memphis board of directors and remain closely associated with the festival. For Edwards, who also has worked as a certified public accountant for 30 years, the film festival represents a labor of love he’s long been committed to.

Movie making

Edwards remains committed to the medium in other ways as well. Among his current ventures, Edwards is a production accountant for local filmmaker Craig Brewer’s latest effort “$5 Cover,” an online program of “webisodes” being made in partnership with MTV. Brewer wants the series to serve as an artistic vehicle for promotion of Memphis music and the city’s atmosphere.

“I’ve known Craig for 10 years; Craig’s had movies in the Indie Memphis Film Festival, and with this ‘$5 Cover,’ he wanted to put together an entirely Memphis-based cast and crew,” Edwards said. “He asked me if I would participate, and I said yes.

“So I’ve been working on it as a production accountant, which is basically the person who oversees the budget, the spending of money, then there’s also the financial incentives that state government gives to filmmakers that have to be (captured). It’s a very interesting experience.”

In addition to his work as a CPA, Edwards also worked briefly in the late 1990s at the Memphis Zoo, where he was the chief administrative officer. A few years ago, Edwards reconnected with a colleague he’d kept in touch with over the years, Bob Compton.

That encounter with Compton led to Edwards’ input on Compton’s recent project that was released to wide acclaim: the documentary “Two Million Minutes.”

The documentary chronicles the lives of high-school students in the U.S., China and India.

“Bob called me about the film because he knew I had been involved with the film festival,” Edwards said. “Bob is the kind of guy who if he gets interested in an industry, he wants to know everything he can about it. The two of us have since talked about opportunities and ways to do things in the film industry that would help filmmakers get their movies seen and maybe make a profit along the way.”

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