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Craig Brewer's Big Break

Looking back at the Poor & Hungry's premiere at the Hollywood Film Festival.

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"Hollywood is like a stick of chewing gum. The flavor is refreshing — for a minute — but once all the sweet has been sucked away, what remains is a gooey, spit­slick blob even the most befouled degenerate would be loath to touch. Nevertheless, if you are a dreamer who wants to make movies, you might as well plan on getting Hollywood stuck to your shoe for a while. There is just no avoiding it."

That's how Chris Davis began his September 7, 2000, cover story about Craig Brewer's trip to Hollywood to premiere his first feature film, The Poor & Hungry, at the Hollywood Film Festival. Then 28, Brewer was hoping his little $20,000 movie, shot in black-and-white and in a then-­revolutionary digital format, might create some buzz and get him a movie deal.

The film was named for the P&H Cafe, then as now, a venerable Midtown beer joint. It told the story of a reluctant car thief who falls in love with one of his victims, a sensitive soul who happens to be a cellist. It was a blue­-collar Romeo and Juliet tale that starred Eric Tate and Lindsey Roberts and a host of other Memphians, many of whom had never acted before. Wanda Wilson, who at that time was the flamboyant owner of the P&H, also had a meaty role.

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The Poor & Hungry had been nominated for Best Feature and Best Digital Feature at the fest, and Brewer was taking most of his cast and crew to Hollywood for the award ceremonies. Davis went along to chronicle the trip, and Flyer readers got to witness Brewer, a Memphian who has since become a bona­fide Hollywood film­maker with such films as Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and Footloose, making his first tentative foray into the shark­-infested waters of Los Angeles' movie-­making machinery. Davis accompanied Brewer to a big­-time producer's office, followed by a golf­cart tour of Paramount Studios; he hung out at the hotel as the Memphis cast and crew readied themselves for the big night.

"The hotel room seems to shrink amid the hair brushing, tooth brushing, lint brushing, shirt buttoning, drink pouring, and occasional raucous laughter. Various cast members wander in and out. John Still, the rough-talking actor who plays a rougher­talking car thief in the film, enters with a bang, eyes bugged out and talking a mile a minute.

"'Guess who I saw today while I was driving? Heather Locklear! Boy, I thought really hard about just running into her car just so she would have to stop and exchange information with me.'"

In the end, The Poor & Hungry lost in the Best Feature category to a $35 million bio­pic about Marlene Dietrich, but Brewer's film won Best Digital Feature. Brewer gave a touching speech about his father, who'd first suggested that he shoot in video and who'd passed away before the film had gotten made.

After the trip, Brewer, his cast and crew, and Davis returned to Memphis. But Brewer would never be Poor & Hungry again. His world had irrevocably changed.


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