A couple of weeks ago at a series of local premiere screenings for $5 Cover and its ancillary documentaries, filmmaker Craig Brewer sounded the alarm on behalf of Indie Memphis, the local film organization that has put on its annual festival for the past 11 years in addition to other programming.
At each screening, Brewer implored attendees to support Indie Memphis or risk losing it. It wasn't, at the time, an unrealistic fear.
Indie Memphis is coming off its biggest and best festival ever last fall, the first under fulltime executive director Erik Jambor. But the combination of an enhanced budget and a faltering economy put Indie Memphis in precarious financial waters that the organization seems to have navigated, at least in the short term.
"We had some funding lined up that fell through, and it was a bit of a surprise to us," says Les Edwards, the longtime Indie Memphis director and current board chairman.
Indie Memphis had made the Jambor hire and expanded its operations based on funding from a private source, but when the economy tanked, that funding was no longer available. For a brief time, this made Brewer's fears of festival going away an actual possibility.
"There was a real danger in the festival not happening this year, and what makes it worse is we had such a great year," Brewer says of his concerns. "Erik is the real deal. I really like what he's doing."
Since Brewer's public warning, Indie Memphis has found the footing to secure this year's festival, scheduled for October 8-15. For starters, the $5 Cover premieres raised more than $12,000 for the festival, according to Jambor, through a combination of ticket sales, poster sales, on-site donations, and new memberships. The organization's membership drive continues, with info available at IndieMemphis.com
"Craig volunteered to have the world premiere as a fundraiser because he knew we were in trouble," Edwards says.
In addition, the organization has received a challenge grant from an anonymous local donor, according to Edwards. "If we raise a certain amount of money, he will match it," says Edwards, who says meeting the fundraising requirement to trigger the grant won't be a problem.
If Brewer and the challenge grant have saved the festival for this year, the future is still a concern.
"It’s easy to start a film festival. It's hard to keep it going," Edwards says. "We're coming up on 12 years and we're not going anywhere. But, like everybody else, we're concerned about the economic situation."
Brewer, who has been taking meetings on Indie Memphis' behalf, thinks the future is in stronger corporate sponsorships for the festival.
"The best way to become a metropolitan city is to start acting like one, and that's getting your local brands involved," Brewer says, citing the success of the long-running Nashville Film Festival.
"If it wasn't for Indie Memphis, we wouldn't have a film scene here," Brewer says of the organization's importance to the local arts community. "[Indie Memphis] provides an impetus for local filmmakers. I know most of my $5 Cover filmmakers cut their teeth [through Indie Memphis]. If that goes away, I don't know that we can replace it."