Indie Memphis Executive Director Ryan Watt Stepping Down After Six Years


Ryan Watt, Executive Director of Indie Memphis
  • Ryan Watt, Executive Director of Indie Memphis

Ryan Watt, the executive director of Indie Memphis, has announced his intent to resign after the 2020 edition of the film festival.

"I look forward to new personal challenges and opportunities as I return to my roots and as entrepreneur," Watt said in a statement released on Twitter. "Indie Memphis is in a great position to bring in an executive director to lead the next phase of growth for the festival. We have an incredible staff, amazing film community, solid financials, growing audience, ad a devoted board of directors."

Watt's introduction into the world of independent film came as a producer for Daylight Fades, the 2010 vampire horror film directed by Memphian Brad Ellis and written by Allen C. Gardner.

"A few months prior to producing my first independent film, my journey with Indie Memphis began in 2008, when I bought a pass to the festival," Watt said. "It was a total discovery. I couldn't believe what a gem we had in our backyard, and I wanted more people to experience why it was so special."

Since Watt took over from former director Erik Jambor in 2015, he has overseen a major expansion of the organization. Last year, the annual film festival, which was founded in 1998, attracted more than 12,000 attendees from all over the world.

Watt has emphasized the organization's commitment to artist development, especially expanding access to the tools of filmmaking to people of color. According to Indie Memphis' annual report, 114 Memphis filmmakers completed projects last year, 45 percent of whom were people of color.

Last weekend was the annual Indie Memphis Youth Festival, which began on his watch in 2016 and has grown significantly every year.

"My vision was to build the Indie Memphis profile, expand the scope of our programs, grow the pipeline between Memphis and the industry, develop filmmakers starting with youth, offer Memphis year-round arthouse cinema, and seek inclusion of the whole city in our mission," Watt said.

A dedicated Indie Memphis cinema was scheduled to open in March at Malco's Studio on the Square, but the debut has been delayed due to COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, this year's festival is expected to be a hybrid virtual affair, combining limited in-person screenings with extensive online offerings in partnership with the Memphis-based cinema services company Eventive.

“A leader of Ryan’s effectiveness and vision will be deeply missed," said Brett Robbs, president of the Indie Memphis board of directors. "But thanks to all he has helped us accomplish, Indie Memphis is well positioned to continue to grow and serve the needs of our entire community.”

Robbs will lead a national search for Watt's replacement. Watt says he will stay on to ease the transition to new leadership. The 2020 Indie Memphis Film Festival is scheduled for October 21st-26th. 

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