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VOL. 10 | NO. 45 | Saturday, November 4, 2017

Indie Memphis Film Fest Goes All Out For 20th Anniversary

By Aisling Maki

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Indie Memphis Film Festival’s 20th run this week has seen a record number of guests and more than 100 filmmakers from around the world descending on the Bluff City.

The festival that seems to get more popular every year continues will a full day of screenings Saturday, Nov. 4, and continues through Monday night, Nov. 6, when a free reception will be held at the Halloran Centre Downtown.

On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5, Cooper Street will be closed to through traffic from Union Avenue and to Monroe Avenue for a massive, free block party, featuring a large outdoor screen, filmmaker awards show reception, food trucks, guest chefs, art displays, a DJ party, cash bar, passholder hospitality tent, red carpet and more.

Revelers will be treated to the world premiere of a Big Star concert film on an outdoor screen, and there will be talks with filmmakers on topics such as casting, black film criticism and women’s perspectives on independent film.

Movie Maker Magazine, one of the industry’s top publications with an emphasis on independent film, named Indie Memphis Film Fest one of the Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World and one of the Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.

“That says that, out of thousands of festivals, it’s one of the best values for both the filmmakers and the attendees,” said Indie Memphis executive director Ryan Watt, who first became involved 10 years ago as a filmmaker and volunteer.

Ryan Watt

In 2015, Watt took the helm and now works fulltime for the nonprofit, whose story began 20 years ago with a festival launched by a group of University of Memphis students. It morphed into a volunteer-run nonprofit called Delta Axis, which guided the festival on a growth trajectory that, after about a decade, evolved into Indie Memphis.

Today Indie Memphis has a budget of more than $500,000, its largest budget yet, funded by a combination of grants, donations, earned revenue through ticket sales, and sponsorships from local companies such as Duncan-Williams.

Indie Memphis has several full and part-time employees to keep up with its growing popularity and the year-round workload required to produce a festival of this magnitude and caliber.

Festival programmer Brandon Harris – a writer, filmmaker, critic, curator and former professor – said Indie Memphis has tremendously expanded its volume of repertory screenings showcasing the very best of American independent film.

“For our 20th edition, we wanted films that can speak to the broad reach of American independent film,” Harris said. “Certainly, what we think of when we say those three words [American independent film] has changed remarkably in the 20 years this festival has been in existence.”

Indie Memphis short programmer Brighid Wheeler said the festival features a robust lineup of women, minority and LGBTQ filmmakers and content.

“We have a very high presence of female filmmakers – not just directors, but writers, producers, and films with a primarily female cast or crew … We’re really proud of the representation this year’s lineup,” said Wheeler, who began as a volunteer before joining the Indie Memphis staff. “And with this being our 20th anniversary, as well as MLK50, I truly believe we have one of the strongest lineups we’ve ever seen – not only in terms of content, but in the representation of every walk of life, and we’re really proud to showcase that diversity.”

This year, the festival has formed a cultural exchange with Saudi Arabia, with a visiting filmmaker and two screenings of Saudi short films, followed by a filmmaker chat.

Among the most well-known participants in the 2017 film fest are actor/director Rainn Wilson, known for his television role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office,” and sometimes controversial filmmaker Abel Ferrara, known for films such as “The Bad Lieutenant” and “The King of New York,” who’s traveling to the festival from Rome.

Director, producer and screenwriter Craig Brewer speaks on "The Soul of Memphis" at MEMTALKS 2017 earlier this year at the Guest House At Graceland.

And hometown filmmaker Craig Brewer’s new digital episodic series, “You Look Like,” which centers on stand-up comedy, will premiere Sunday evening.

“Locally, our original success story would be Craig Brewer premiering ‘The Poor and Hungry,’ his first film, here and that was before Hollywood film festival, which led to him making connections and eventually making ‘Hustle and Flow,’” Watt said. “And we’re premiering Craig’s new work this year.”

Other success stories include Texas filmmaker David Lowery, whose small, intimate film “St. Nick,” played at Indie Memphis a decade ago. He’s gone on to direct films such as the remake of the Disney classic “Pete’s Dragon,” and a drama he wrote and directed, “A Ghost Story,” saw its world premiere this year at Sundance.

“Every year we see filmmakers who had their movies premiered in Memphis go on to do great things,” Watt said.

Indie Memphis is making way for the next generation of filmmakers with its youth outreach component, which includes the Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest.

That event, which celebrated its second year in September, is a one-day event where young people participate in a full day of workshops, screenings and panel discussions.

Youth festival keynote speakers have included Brewer, and director Tom Shadyac, known for Hollywood blockbusters such as “Bruce Almighty” and “Ace Ventura,” who’s currently shooting the film “Brian Banks” in Memphis.

“There was always this feeling that Memphis needed to provide young filmmakers with a platform to showcase their work and let them network,” said Youth Film Fest coordinator Matteo Servente, an award-winning filmmaker who moved to Memphis from Italy for a film project. “They get a full day of hands-on experience and a chance to show whatever work they’ve done.”

The winning films from the Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest will be screened during the larger festival this weekend.

Screenings will take place at The Orpheum’s Halloran Center in Downtown Memphis; Hattiloo Theatre, Circuit Theatre, Playhouse on the Square and Malco’s Studio on the Square in Midtown; Malco Ridgeway in East Memphis; and Malco Collierville.

Go to indiememphis.com for the full schedule.

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