The Indie Memphis Film Festival began in 1998 with a handful of modest local films screening on a sheet against the wall of a Midtown coffee shop. Ten years later, it returns to Midtown with more than 120 local, regional, and global films showing over seven days on three screens at the city's preeminent art theater and with one of the most important filmmakers the American independent scene has produced kicking things off.
After several years downtown, the last few at Muvico's Peabody Place theater, Indie Memphis moves to Malco's Studio on the Square this month for the 10th Indie Memphis Film Festival, which runs Friday, October 19th, through Thursday, October 25th. The opening night film is The Honeydripper, a blues-themed film from acclaimed indie filmmaker John Sayles, a two-time Oscar nominee for his films Passion Fish and Lone Star.
"We feel like we're coming home in a way," says festival director Les Edwards of the move back to Midtown. "Muvico has been great to us, but downtown can be challenging to negotiate. Midtown has its own dynamic."
Edwards says Midtown businesses have embraced the festival, which should lead to a different vibe as the festival spills out of the theater and into surrounding restaurants and clubs. The festival is employing a shuttle van to help filmmakers and other festival attendees get around the Overton Square and Cooper-Young neighborhoods during the festival.
"Studio is perfect for us," Edwards says. "The theaters are equipped with new digital projectors and built-in microphones for the panel [discussions]." Malco is setting aside three of the theater's five screens for a full week for the festival, which will allow Indie Memphis to host weekday matinee screenings for the first time and to offer multiple screenings of every local feature film.
The presence of Sayles — one of the most important of the generation of American independent filmmakers who emerged in the 1980s — makes The Honeydripper the most high-profile opening-night screening in the festival's history.
Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan director Craig Brewer made the screening happen, Edwards says of the fest's big get: "We ran into Craig at the office supplies store on New Year's Eve — this is the exciting life we all lead. We were wishing each other happy holidays, and he said he's been dealing with John Sayles and he has this great new movie that would really work for Indie Memphis. He said, we just need to talk to John and see if we can get it here. So Craig and I talked over the summer, and I guess about [three weeks] ago it finally happened."
The festival has secured two prints of The Honeydripper, a story about a rural Alabama juke joint circa 1950 that has screened at the Toronto and New York film festivals and will do staggered screenings on opening night, with Sayles and his producer Maggie Renzi on hand to hopefully introduce each screening and take questions afterward.
But, despite the presence of an established indie-film heavyweight in Sayles, the festival is likely to be more notable for the emerging filmmakers on display, including feature debuts from two of the artists Filmmaker Magazine tapped for its "25 New Faces of Independent Film" issue this summer. One of these is North Carolina's Craig Zobel, whose Great World of Sound is about a couple of men traveling to towns to record undiscovered musicians for a fee. Great World of Sound premiered at Sundance early this year and will screen at Indie Memphis only once, on Saturday night.
The other rising star featured in Filmmaker Magazine is Memphis filmmaker Andrew Nenninger, aka Kentucker Audley, whose short film Bright Sunny South was an Indie Memphis winner in 2005. Audley's feature debut, Team Picture, already has screened as part of two emerging directors series in New York and Boston. It'll make its local premiere at Indie Memphis.
But these three films are only the most obvious highlights. A typically strong documentary slate includes For the Bible Tells Me So, a survey of religious families dealing with the coming out of homosexual sons or daughters which has received strong reviews recently in the Village Voice and Salon.com; Run Granny Run, a political documentary from the maker of former Indie Memphis fave Mai's America that is screening on HBO this month; and Manufacturing Dissent, an unintentional exposé on Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko director Michael Moore.
Aside from Team Picture, this year's festival includes five more local narrative features, as well as a cornucopia of locally produced documentaries, short films, and music videos, the later sponsored by Live From Memphis.
The festival's "Soul of Southern Film" mission is expanded this year by a "Global Lens" program that will screen otherwise undistributed films from Third World countries in one of the three theaters. This program is a partnership with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Global Film Initiative, which is dedicated to promoting foreign-language film in the United States. High school students will get free admission to Global Lens screenings.
As part of its celebration of its 10-year anniversary, this year's Indie Memphis Festival will also look back at the filmmaking scene in Memphis that preceded the festival, with a "Back in the Day" program that will screen, among other things, Memphis-bred filmmaker Ira Sachs' debut The Delta, with Sachs in town to attend the screening.
Over the next few pages, we look at some of the potential highlights of this year's festival. For expanded coverage, as well as a guide to each day's screenings, go to MemphisFlyer.com. — Chris Herrington
The Indie Memphis Film Festival
Studio on the Square
Friday, October 19th, through Thursday, October 25th
Tickets are available at the Studio on the Square box office.
For a complete schedule and more information on tickets or festival passes, see IndieMemphis.com.