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Indie Memphis' grant program aims to empower Bluff City filmmakers.



Look to the credits of each short film represented in the 2016 IndieGrants bloc, and you'll find recurring names of actors and crew members collaborating on one another's projects.

That's the film community here — a tight-knit family willing to lend a hand to artists scraping up funds to bring their vision to the screen. But what could a DIY filmmaker accomplish with a full crew and professional resources for production? Mark Jones, who started the IndieGrant program in 2014, wanted to find out.

"My starting IndieGrant is both from an artistic point of view and an economic point of view," Jones, whose resume includes the 2012 comedy Tennessee Queer, says. "Film is art. Film is jobs. I thought that if Indie Memphis could help fund short films, then perhaps one of those short films made in Memphis could get some funding, and then it could be made as a feature film here in the city."

What started as two $4,500 grants and two $500 grants has grown considerably in just two years. Now, two winning film proposals not only receive $5,000 while two others receive $500, but they are also awarded an additional $2,500 from FireFly Grip and Electric for lighting work and equipment, and, beginning this year, $1,500 from LensRentals and $1,000 for sound mixing from Music + Art Studios.

"I think you'd be hard pressed to find another film festival the size of Indie Memphis or perhaps bigger that gives this much out in grants to local filmmakers," Jones says.

Seven films, financed between the 2014 and 2015 Indie Memphis festivals, will debut at 8:15 p.m. on November 1st at the Halloran Centre. That includes Sarah Fleming's Carbike, a city-trotting, sightseer told through the perspective of two Japanese visitors; G.B. Shannon's touching family drama Broke Dick Dog; the Flyer's Chris McCoy and Laura Jean Hocking's road trip comedy How to Skin a Cat, which depicts the Collierville, Midtown, and rural divide; Morgan Jon Fox's Silver Elves, an almost dialogue-free, true crime reverie; On the Sufferings of the World, an collaboration between experimental auteur Ben Siler, director Edward Valibus, actor Jessica Morgan, and musician Alexis Grace; Dirty Money, by Jonas Schubach, who also served as cinematographer on Indie Memphis' closing night feature documentary Kallen Esperian: Vissie d'Arti and Jones' black comedy Death$ in a $mall Town.

How to Skin a Cat
  • How to Skin a Cat

IndieGrant serves as a launch pad — a motivator to stay accountable and follow through with a film, says Joseph Carr. He'll make his directorial debut at this year's festival after a $500 IndieGrant and a few thousand dollars in personal fund-raising. Returns is inspired by the years he worked in a bookstore, watching as the digital takeover made in-store interaction almost extinct.

"The film is a profile of people who love their profession and, while struggling with honest bouts of ennui, continue to provide their service in the face of an uncertain future," Carr says.

A testament to the community's kinship, Carr committed to filmmaking after working on Sarah Fleming's crew as a production assistant. Years later, he was cast in Fox's play Claws and, later, in Feral. Fox produced Carr's short, along with two others in the block, Fleming's Carbike and Jones' Death$ In A $mall Town. Carr, in turn, produced Fox's Silver Elves.

Death$ in a $mall Town
  • Death$ in a $mall Town

"The Memphis scene is like a family, and, at some point, we're all working on each other's productions one way or another. It's always an honor," Fox says.

Since 2002, Fleming has captured multiple perspectives of Memphis. Carbike depicts the city through the eyes of tourists. Aside from Fox playing an amiable Airbnb host, the dialogue between lead actors Kazuha Oda and Hideki Matsushige is in Japanese.

"[Carbike] is part of a larger series focusing on stories of Memphis visitors — all of which are inspired by true stories," Fleming says. "I'm a huge fan of this city and enjoy exploring our unique landscape."

At last year's festival, Jones was asked why there were only two big winners. Rather than hand two people $5,000 each, why not give 10 people $1,000?

"My response was that I want to see the bar raised," Jones says. "The IndieGrants are important to me because I want to see Memphis grow as a film city. This is one way I can directly help make that happen."

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