The 11th Indie Memphis Film Festival starts Friday with more than 100 films screening at Studio on the Square over the next seven days. For a full schedule, see IndieMemphis.com.
Heres our guide to some of the potential highlights on tap at the festival this weekend:
Friday, October 10th:
Adventures of Power (7 p.m., Friday, October 10th): You cant write a review of Adventures of Power without the words competition air drumming. That should be sufficient to determine your interest-level in a film that has the silly cranked to 11 a movie that has all the moxie of a Mentos commercial.
Power (Ari Gold, who also wrote and directs) is the son of a copper-mine laborer (Michael McKean) in New Mexico. He air drums his way through his life, dreaming of sharing the good feeling he gets from Mr. Misters Kyrie with the world. Powers blue collar is an upturned jean jacket. His dad wants him to grow up, but Power argues, Im not pussyfooting, Im double bass drumming.
Power winds up in New Jersey to compete in a nationally televised air-drum competition. Hes mentored by Carlos (Memphis-native Steven Williams, Mr. X from The X Files), who used to drum in Gas Station, the best funk band in Jersey, before an accident took away his hands. Powers main opponent is Dallas Houston (Adrian Grenier, Entourage), a son-of-a-billionaire cowboy country star. With much Neil Peart idolatry throughout. Greg Akers
The New Year Parade (7:30 p.m., Friday, October 10th): This regional indie from Philadelphia is an accomplished downbeat indie about a couple of working-class siblings twentysomething brother and teen sister dealing with the rift between their increasingly estranged parents. Its also set against the backdrop of an annual neighborhood vs neighborhood marching band competition, with the brother and father members of the underdog South Philly String Band. A mopey but moving indie-rock soundtrack adds to the films glumly empathetic realism. Chris Herrington
Dance of the Dead (Midnight): Georgia native filmmaker Gregg Bishop makes a return visit to Indie Memphis with this midnight-movie about zombies invading a high-school prom.
Saturday, October 11th:
OMG/HaHaHa (Noon): Local filmmaker Morgan Jon Foxs third feature has its official Memphis debut after an earlier screening at New Yorks Newfest. See our feature on Foxs film in this weeks paper.
The Arts Interviews: A Compilation (Noon): Local filmmaker Joann Self Selvidge debuts a selection of her interviews with notable local painters, photographers, and sculptors, including the late Ernest Withers.
The Black List (1:15 p.m.): Film critic Elvis Mitchell conducted interviews (from off-screen) for this made-for-TV series of portraits of successful African-Americans, including Toni Morrison, Vernon Jordan, and Chris Rock. Mitchell, part of the Indie Memphis jury, is expected to introduce the film and field questions afterward.
Bama Girl (2 p.m.): Are you inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories about shadow organizations who quietly control the world from behind the scenes? Bama Girl is a film that might change your mind. The tightly focused documentary isnt about national politics or international intrigue though. Instead it follows Jessica Thomas, an ambitious African-American sorority girl who intends to play by the rules and buck the system at the same time by making an all-out bid to be elected Homecoming Queen at the University of Alabama.
Is there an organization called The Machine that controls student affairs in Tuscaloosa that nobody in the white Greek System likes to talk about? Does the organization exert political control outside the University of Alabama? Will Jessica Thomas be homecoming queen? Director Rachel Goslins has created a charming, modestly scaled portrait of America that is hopeful, but frustrating and spooky around the edges. Chris Davis
Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (2:30 p.m.): Wayne Burton collects 8-track players, knives, and religious art and doesnt truck with either Republicans or bleeding-heart liberal bastards. Dallas Gilbert collects Elvis memorabilia, has emphysema, and likes pork chops. Wayne and Gilbert are also Bigfoot researchers and the stars of Jay Delaneys documentary Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie.
When the Southern Ohio duo go out Bigfootin, its not what youd call scientific research. They set up camp in nearby state and national forests, film for hours with a camera, shout Bigfoot calls (Waynes specialty), talk to any Bigfoots in earshot in Native American (Gilberts), and then go back home and spend days going through the footage to see what they can see, hunting for the ever-elusive precise piece of footage that proves the existence of the American Sasquatch.
The narrative that emerges in the film isnt the search for Bigfoot but the study of these two characters. For Wayne and Gilbert, Bigfoot research is a reach for connection to the spiritual and an escape from a hardscrabble life in an economically depressed town. If they ever find success, theyd use the fortune to get the roof fixed, and maybe get better equipment for future research.
The film documents an episode where Wayne and Gilbert are accused of a hoax and lies. But Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie suggests that what the men are up to is not kookery; its something more akin to folk art. That their story might be the most poignant thing youll see at this years festival is, well, not typical. Greg Akers
Conversation with Craig Brewer (3:15 p.m.): Memphis filmmaker Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) is interviewed by Elvis Mitchell.
Heavy Load (4:15 p.m.): Jerry Rothwells Heavy Load is two documentaries crammed into a single film. One is brilliant. The other is embarrassing. One film is an annoying exercise in narcissism. The other is the rarest of all cinematic creatures: an inspirational film that actually inspires.
Heavy Load is about two years in the life of Heavy Load, a UK punk band mixing a pair of normals with a trio of musicians with sever learning disabilities. In the grand spirit of UK punk, the group is actually out to change the world with their music. Theyre tired of social workers who take people like them home early in the evening just when all the fun is starting, and sing about a time when everybody even people with special needs get to Stay Up Late.
Unfortunately, at some point Rothwell decided he was Ross McElwee remaking Shermans March, and he turned the camera on himself. We see the filmmaker crying in his car, worrying how band dynamics will impact his film, and fretting about how his film is impacting the bands dynamics. Ultimately he even has one of the band members interview him. The problem: Rothwells angst is boring. Moreover, its infantile compared to the daily challenges met and overcome by Heavy Loads mentally challenged band members, who squabble and fight and overcome terrible obstacles and extreme prejudice to make something like beautiful music together. Chris Davis
Bunnyland (5 p.m.): The local premiere of Memphian Brett Hanovers documentary set in the low-rent tourist-trap environs of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and focusing on the mystery of 73 rabbits found slaughtered on the grounds of a miniature golf course.
Make-Out With Violence (6:45 p.m.): Make-Out with Violence is no perfect film. But as flawed no-budget indies go, this ones toward the top of the food chain. One main reason: Make-Out with Violence is a hungry film.
Made in Henderson, Tennessee, by filmmakers the Deagol brothers (a.k.a. Chris Doyle and Andy Duensing), Make-Out with Violence is about the void left in the lives of the teenage friends of missing girl Wendy Hearst (Shellie Marie Shartzer) and what happens to them when she comes back.
Shartzer is really fantastic as the films sputtering-to-life centerpiece is she a zombie now, or a vampire, or a pet-cemetery-type regurgitation? Her physical acting is knockout. No explanation is given for the characters undead return, though the presence of cicadas throughout suggests cyclical life and death. There are more questions than answers in Make-Out with Violence, which is why its so atmospherically effective. This is one creepy flick.
Theres a shifting tone to the film that makes it difficult to get a handle on: teen drama tugs against horror; gallows humor wars with elements of 80s popular cinema. But the overall effect is that, whatever it is thats going on, its something worth seeing. Greg Akers
Song Sung Blue (7:30 p.m.): Insufferable ironists may get a good smirk out of Song Sung Blue, a documentary that won both the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year. Everyone else will be stunned, horrified, and heartbroken. Song Sung Blue is the first feature-length film by Greg Kohs, an Emmy-winning veteran of NFL Films. It chronicles in squalid detail stained-underwear detail the short, horrible, obscenely hopeful life of Mike Sardina, a spot-on Neil Diamond impersonator who thought he could ride his fantasy straight to the top. Sardina, who performed with his wife an Abba/Patsy Cline tribute artist was wrong.
By films end, we discover that Sardina was a Vietnam vet with a nasty job. And that he kicked his booze and heroin addictions long before anybody ever thought about making a film about him. But even at the high point of his career, when he and his wife perform Forever in Blue Jeans with Pearl Jams Eddie Vedder at Milwaukees Summerfest Concert, its hard to imagine a time when life was tougher.
Song Sung Blue is a quirky Polaroid of an atypical family. It is also an essay on poverty, celebrity, beauty, and something like the American Dream. Its everything you want from an episode of the Jerry Springer show but shot through with genuine humanity. Chris Davis
Bi the Way (9:30 p.m.): Memphis native Brittany Blockman co-produces and co-directs this documentary about a new sexual revolution in the form of increasing bisexuality among young people.
Sunday, October 12th:
At the Death House Door (12:30 p.m.): This terrific documentary from the same team that produced the landmark doc Hoop Dreams opens with a man walking through a modest graveyard. In voiceover, he begins to tell his story: Even to this day, I dont understand how I got where I am. From 1982 to 1995, I was minister to 95 inmates who were put to death by lethal injection. I never intended to do 95. In fact, I didnt intend to do one. But it happened.
The subject is Carroll Pickett, who served as a death-row chaplain at a prison in Huntsville, Texas. After each execution he was involved in, Pickett recorded his account onto a cassette tape. One execution bothered Pickett more than others, that of Carlos De Luna, a man convicted of murdering a gas-station clerk whom Pickett came to believe was innocent. This brings Pickett into contact with a couple of Chicago Tribune reporters investigating the case, and then with De Lunas sister. In following Picketts intimate journey through a thorny subject, filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert (the latter slated to attend the screening) deliver a sober consideration of capital punishment that eschews political sloganeering. Chris Herrington
The Way I See Things (12:45 p.m.): Read more about local filmmaker Brian Peras feature here.
Neshoba (3:15 p.m.): This documentary about the notorious 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the towns attempt to deal with the crime 40 years later, makes its regional debut after winning the best documentary prize at its recent world premiere at the Boston Film Festival.
The film was made with the participation of the Philadelphia Coalition, an interracial group of local citizens seeking justice and closure on the crime, and of the surviving parents and family members of the three slain activists: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Goodmans mother is particularly moving remembering her and her husband awaiting the return of her sons remains after his body was finally discovered buried in the Mississippi wilderness: I can see that picture, Bobby and me, waiting for that casket to come out of the airplane. I thought about all those parents whose sons were coming back from wars. And my son was coming back from a war. He was hero. A dead one.
Neshoba follows the progress of a new trial of former preacher and racist rabble-rouser Edgar Ray Killen, thought to be one of the organizers of the crime, who dodged prosecution in 64. The film shows a modern Philadelphia where white citizens have a mixed reaction to Killens prosecution some seeking justice, many others urging to leave it alone. Chris Herrington
Conversation with Giancarlo Esposito (4:30 p.m.): Actor/filmmaker Giancarlo Esposito, in town with his new feature Gospel Hill (see below), is interviewed by Elvis Mitchell.
Gospel Hill (6 p.m.): Giancarlo Espositos directorial debut focuses on the African-American residents of a South Carolina neighborhood who are forced out of their homes to make way for a multi-million-dollar golf-course development. With Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, Samuel L. Jackson, and native Memphian Chris Ellis. Memphian Scott Bomar, who served as music supervisor and composer on Craig Brewers past two films, serves the same role here, with regional artists such as Amy LaVere and Bobby Rush on the soundtrack.
The Order of Myths (8:30 p.m.): Mobile, Alabama, native Margaret Brown returned home to film this documentary about the films still-segregated Mardi Gras celebrations, the oldest in the country. With a familiarity with the city that lets her get great access, Brown delivers an observational gem of a film that lets the Mardi Gras culture of Mobile reveal itself in all its color and complexity, from a white society scion intent on challenging tradition but only so far to an African-American queen musing on the financial burden of the spotlight, to rowdy, working-class white interlopers looking for their piece of the high-society action. The Order of Myths won the Grand Jury prize for documentaries at this years Sundance Film Festival. Chris Herrington