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VOL. 125 | NO. 205 | Thursday, October 21, 2010

Indie Spirit

13th annual fest fetes filmmakers’ freedom

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

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The Indie Memphis Film Festival opens for its 13th season this weekend, running Thursday through Sunday at the Playhouse on the Square, the Studio on the Square and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

The festival screens the work of local and international filmmakers along with panel discussions on the film industry.

Indie Memphis has grown considerably over the past few years under the guidance of executive director Erik Jambor. Attendance has increased by 30 percent for each of the past two years. Last year the festival attracted more than 7,000 attendees and brought 80 filmmakers to town.

This year’s highlights include an opening-night screening of “The Grace Card” and the 10th anniversary screening of local director Craig Brewer’s “The Poor & Hungry.”

Brent Stewart, Nashville-based writer and director of “The Colonel’s Bride,” also will be showing his film.

“I love Memphis. It’s a special place,” he said. “I used to live there; and by God I want to show my movie there.”

Stewart’s plucky resilience is an important trait among independent filmmakers. While U.S. box office grosses have grown consistently, independent film financing is precarious at best.

The National Association of Theater owners reported gross sales of more than $10 billion for 2009, realizing steady growth as consumers shied away from larger purchases.

Stewart’s film, for example, is about a retired colonel seeking redemption with a Vietnamese mail order bride.

“It was financed by cobbling together bits and pieces of super talented folks sweating and swaying their normal fees; all collaborating for a single vision,” he said. “I would like to see films be made without concerns of financing, somehow.”

Festivals offer independent directors and producers the opportunity to screen work that falls outside the purview of the mainstream industry.

“Festival screenings give an audience access and the makers a chance to share visions outside of commercial schlock,” said Stewart, who was selected as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s top 25 independents due to a film festival screening. “My God, without film festivals like Indie Memphis we’d be watching the Hollywood narrative equivalent of fast food commercials.”

But getting those movies made is difficult. Even as video has become critically accepted and digital editing has reduced the time and costs involved, making a film is neither cheap nor easy.

Ryan Watt is co-producer, along with Nick Case, of “Open Five,” a locally produced film directed by Kentucker Audley.

Audley has a directorial style that eschews many cinematic conventions, such as a script.

“It’s kind of a blend between reality and fiction,” said Watt. “It’s shot like a documentary and dialogue is ad libbed. People are playing versions of themselves.”

Watt’s production company, Paper Moon Films, has been resourceful in finding new ways to meet financing and marketing challenges. Fundraising activities included a party at Minglewood Hall, a silent auction and use of an online fundraising site Chip In.

“We didn’t really have ‘investors’ and so we are able to take more risks,” said Watt.

Paper Moon is taking a cue from the music industry’s “give it away” strategy of building an audience. The night of the premiere the film will be available in its entirety online.

“The idea is to get as many people to see it as possible,” said Watt.

“My God, without film festivals like Indie Memphis we’d be watching the Hollywood narrative equivalent of fast food commercials.”

– Brent Stewart, writer/director

Rod Murphy directed “Being The Diablo,” a film about a man who forsakes conventional life, turning to nature and a remote tribe of Mexican indigenous people.

“Screenings like Indie Memphis legitimize a film like ours. Our ultimate goal is obviously distribution and in particular, cable TV distribution. Reviews and positive response and any awards that might be garnered go a long way towards putting together a great press kit, which helps when approaching distributors,” said Murphy.

In addition to films, Indie Memphis hosts panels relevant to production. This year’s panels include a presentation by Eastman Kodak of its Kodak Vision 3 200 T Color Negative Film and a discussion on grassroots documentary films with “Hoop Dreams” producer Peter Gilbert and local director Morgan Jon Fox.

Show times and additional information are available online at www.indiememphis.com.

Indie Memphis has developed a strong reputation on the festival circuit, an important trait as the event continues to grow.

“The word on the street about Indie Memphis is that they really have their act together on all fronts and they treat filmmakers great,” said Murphy.

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