Like many children of the 1970s, Erik Jambor’s interest in film began with scrolling words on the big screen: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … .”
For Jambor, it wasn’t so far away in Birmingham, Ala., where he nurtured a passion for film with a Super 8 video camera in his backyard.
More than the films, though, he relished the “making of” specials for that inspirational film, “Star Wars” and for movies such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Then it became more about, not just seeing movies, but making movies as something that could be a career,” he said. “So I used to make stop motion films and Super 8 films in my backyard with friends or with ‘Star Wars’ figures.”
He made films throughout his childhood, as he interned at a local production facility in high school, and then through college where he was in the first film class started at Florida State University.
After graduating in 1993, he returned to Birmingham where he worked in film editing and, with a friend, opened a shop to do offline digital editing.
“I got to be one of the main folks doing nonlinear digital stuff when it was first coming out back in the day,” he said. “So that was the world I lived in for a number of years, making commercials, focusing on high-end, image-based spots for banks and hospitals and things like that.”
The narrative world of film still tugged at him, though, and Jambor made the short film “Gamalost” for the expressed purpose of getting into film festivals. It was accepted into the 1996 Seattle International Film Festival.
The process of getting that film into festivals led him to attend other festivals such as Sundance, which his film wasn’t in, though the experience would prove advantageous to his career.
“I kept coming home with these stories of these great films I saw,” he said. “My friends got fed up from me talking about them because, at the time, you would never get to see those sorts of films.”
In order to give his friends, and other regional film buffs, the opportunity to see what he had in his travels, Jambor and those friends started the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in 1999.
“I basically switched from doing full-time, high-end commercial work to running a film festival that we knew nothing about,” he said. “We kind of created it from scratch.”
“The trick is always how do you get people to understand what independent film is.”
Director, Indie Memphis Film Festival
He ran the festival for eight years and, in 2007, was hired to run the BendFilm Festival in Bend, Ore.
The Indie Memphis Film Festival, in its 10th year then, had just received funding to hire its first full-time director and Jambor moved back south to take the position.
“What Memphis had, and what the Indie Memphis Film Festival angle was, is what really appeals to me about film festivals, their whole sense of community,” he said. “The city here provided things that I hadn’t been able to connect with in the other markets, so I threw my hat in the ring and sure enough ended up here.”
The festival had always been run with volunteer power and still is to a large extent. Jambor brought his experiences in Birmingham and Bend to Memphis to build on the foundation already begun by the film community here.
“The trick is always how do you get people to understand what independent film is,” he said. “Our challenge was how do we get more people to come and check it out.”
The festival has grown over the years. This year it was attended by crowds that walked from Playhouse on the Square to Malco’s Studio on the Square and with outdoor showings projected onto a large screen in the lot to the north of the new parking garage in Overton Square. It was the culmination for Jambor, as is every festival, of days spent putting out calls for entries, screenings, planning, wooing sponsors and members, and producing events such as the film component of Memphis in May and an outdoor film series at the Levitt Shell.
Through it all, there is a great satisfaction in helping burgeoning filmmakers and witnessing where the next generation of film buffs might lead the indie offerings. And, Jambor has hopes of returning to a position behind the camera to put his knowledge of favorites such as “Citizen Kane,” the films of the Cohen Brothers and those of the 1970s to use.
“It’s been very exciting just to be able to curate the work of other filmmakers and then see those guys grow,” he said, adding, “I’m sure at some point I’ll put something together, I’m always jotting down ideas.”