Indie Memphis Daily: Friday Guide



The first full day for the Indie Memphis Film Festival has been thrown for a bit of a loop as the series of free screenings at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park have been cancelled due to weather concerns. The screenings — Elvis Presley's "’68 Comeback" special and The Big Lebowski will still go on, but maybe not on the original rain date of next Friday. We'll let you know when the event has been rescheduled.

The Memphis Music at SXSW documentary that was supposed to screen in between Elvis and Lebowski has been moved onto the schedule at the Brooks Museum Saturday at 3:15 p.m., replacing a planned sneak preview for the shot-in-Memphis MTV web series Savage County.

The Shell cancellations will probably send more viewers over to Studio on the Square, where a packed lineup awaits. Our picks for the day, all screenings at Studio on the Square unless otherwise noted:

Pick of the Day: Alexander the Last (7:45 p.m.)

Jess Weixler holding tight in Alexander the Last
  • Jess Weixler holding tight in Alexander the Last
Joe Swanberg is one of the names most associated with the so-called "mumblecore" genre, but Alexander the Last is the film where he breaks out into something newer and better. The film retains the intimacy of Swanberg's earlier work, but combines it with a more polished and ambitious filmmaking style that flaunts mumblecore's stylistic and generational constraints, using the medium to create rather than just capture. This aesthetic shift is marked by poetic/sardonic opening and closing imagery, provocative character symmetries, and one bravura stretch of crosscutting.

The film's plot concerns young stage actress Alex (Jess Weixler) who, in the absence of her touring musician husband (Justin Rice), becomes attracted to her new costar, Jamie (Barlow Jacobs), in a sexually charged play she's rehearsing. Alex deflects this temptation by pushing Jamie onto her sister Hellen (Amy Seimetz). The complications that ensue are believable, deeply felt, sometimes surprising, with the aforementioned crosscutting — between two sex scenes, one "real," one "theatrical" — a cinematic and emotional centerpiece as interesting as anything I've seen on the screen this year. Swanberg will be in attendance. More on Swanberg and Alexander the Last here and here. — Chris Herrington


Feature Pick: Stingray Sam (7:45 p.m.)

Cory McAbee as Stingray Sam
  • Cory McAbee as "Stingray Sam"
One of the more high-profile filmmakers on stage at this year’s festival is Cory McAbee. The Californian is screening his newest, Stingray Sam, and his 2001 film, The American Astronaut. Stingray Sam is another space cowboy musical comedy but chopped up in installments like serial classics Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. In this instance, though, the camp is knowingly embraced. McAbee stars in the title role, and he brings a Steve Martin-like energy to it. Sam, a bandit refugee from Durango (a rocket-ship-manufacturing planet that has fallen on hard times) is a dead-end lounge singer on the hard-luck casino planet Mars Vegas when his old outlaw partner the Quasar Kid drafts him into a good-deed adventure. I’ve only seen the first installment, the 10-minute “Factory Fugitives,” but if the rest of the film is as lively, it’ll be a crowd-pleaser. Did I mention it’s narrated by David Hyde Pierce? Stingray Sam screens at 7:45 p.m. — Greg Akers


Documentary Pick: Sweethearts of the Rodeo (3:15 p.m.)

A scene from Sweethearts of the Rodeo
  • A scene from Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Bradley Beesley’s camera pans the dusty arena, the holding pens, and the cowboy hats, splicing these images with the clink of handcuffs and a glimpse of western-style shirts, the prominent lettering all acronyms ending in CC and SP. Here is the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Rodeo, the last behind-walls rodeo where inmates compete in one of the most brutal of spectator sports. A foray into this strange holdover from a bygone penal system, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo highlights the recent addition to the rodeo: a tenacious troop of pink-shirted female inmates. The sport is a not-so-subtle metaphor (wrangling a wild beast; riding free for a small period of time) and the arena is similarly allegorical (the audience watches through the thick bars of the stands; the inmates are as much the spectacle as the rodeo events.) But Beesley plays it fairly straight, giving the bizarre slice of Americana its fair due without tipping over into maudlin. At times funny and heartening, at times tragic, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo is a poignant chorus of inmate stories roped around a rough stock rodeo. — Hannah Sayle


Local Pick: Kentucker Audley screening (3:45 p.m., free)

Kentucker Audley on the set of Open Five
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Kentucker Audley on the set of Open Five
Local filmmaker Kentucker Audley has been a big hit at Indie Memphis in the past, first with his short Bright Sunny South and then with his debut feature, Team Picture, which went on to several high-profile festival screenings and a DVD release. At this free screening, Audley will debut a couple of works-in-progress. One is his second feature, The Holy Land, a character study and travelogue starring local musician Cole Weintraub, which is nearing completion. Audley will also debut the trailer of his recently shot third feature, Open Five, another collaboration with a Memphis musician, in this case Jump Back Jake singer Jake Rabinbach. Open Five was shot with a crew that included fellow Indie Memphis filmmakers Joe Swanberg (Alexander the Last) and David Lowery (St. Nick). The film's production was featured in this recent Flyer cover story. — Herrington

Shorts Pick: Jennifer (5:45 p.m.)
These four and a half minutes are dedicated to the filmmaker’s late mother, Jennifer, and her passion for science and teaching. The film focuses on Jennifer’s participation in the attempt to connect middle school science students with the astronauts aboard the international space station. The short film comes to a climax when, after a few discouraging seconds of silence, Jennifer’s students finally make radio contact. With an interesting premise and some lovely images, the film succeeds as both a frame for the filmmaker’s bereavement and a touching gesture of love and respect. Screening with the documentary feature Naturally Obsessed, a film about molecular scientists. — Sayle

Wildcard Picks:

Flipside Memphis (5:30 p.m.)
A series of short documentary profiles on Memphis places, people, and cultural institutions, Live From Memphis' "Flipside Memphis" series began as a companion to Craig Brewer's $5 Cover series, but has, happily, continued on. At this screening, the Live From Memphis crew will debut 15 all-new episodes focusing on topics such as the National Ornamental Metal Museum, the Memphis Zoo, the Rock for Love benefit, and the International Folk Alliance. — Herrington

Paranormal Activity (midnight)
A last-minute edition to the festival lineup, secured with the help of Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer. This low-budget horror feature has been a big hit in early screenings and is drawing comparisons to The Blair Witch Project for bare-bones aesthetic, its creepy effectiveness, and its breakout potential. The film's premise is that it is the edited together home video footage of a young couple who set up a surveillance camera in their home to document potential paranormal activity. Brewer, who saw the film while in California filming his FX pilot Terriers, vouches strongly for this one, and he's far from alone in the film industry. Showing as a midnight movie. — Herrington



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