"Chris [Reyes] and I went and shot [the implosion], because we had cameras and that's what we do," says Sarah Fleming of Live From Memphis. "Afterward, we were excited and talked about what to do with the footage and went out and made a little movie."
Inspired, the duo decided to have some more fun, making their implosion footage community property for other local filmmakers to make short films with. Lil Film Fest was born.
Live From Memphis (which Reyes founded) organized eight quarterly Lil Film Fests in 2006 and 2007 with a simple set of rules: Films would be no more than five minutes, would be on a given topic (examples: "Barbecue," "The Legend of Craig Brewer," "Rhymes with Pelvis"), and would compete for two awards, a jury prize presented by Live From Memphis and an audience award.
The festival has dual purposes: fostering community among local filmmakers and giving aspiring local film artists small, manageable projects to work on and complete.
"We've seen a lot of local filmmakers improve over time [through the Lil Film Fest]," Fleming says.
Though very popular among the local filmmaking community, Lil Film Fest had to go on hiatus in 2008 as Live From Memphis sought funding for the project. This week it returns with the theme "Memphis: Fact or Fiction?," featuring a 14-film slate.
Charged with examining local history/character/legend either factual or fabricated, a lot of filmmakers delved into ghost stories or other supernatural stories. As a result, the standout shorts might be ones that take a different approach.
Filmmaking trio Corduroy Wednesday's CottonBallLand is a very funny, rambling, Grandpa Simpson-esque civic origin story that leaps forward to the 1970s, those wild days "when Craig Brewer would film John Calipari juggling kittens." Morgan Jon Fox and John Tom Roemer's Chuck, from Craigslist is enjoyably discursive, with an interesting aural and visual texture. And G.B. Shrewsbury directs writer/humorist Andrew Earles in An Exemplary Look at Memphis, Tennessee — Free of Charge!, a deadpan-comic riff in the form of an intentionally bad TV-doc-style look at Memphis, with Earles as an inept and surly host.
Making the return of Lil Film Fest possible is a host of new (or, in some cases, renewed) partnerships. The Memphis Tourism Foundation has joined as a presenting sponsor of the festival. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has replaced First Congregational Church as the festival location. Indie Memphis (long a Lil Film Fest supporter) and the Memphis & Shelby County Film & Television Commission are joining to provide an enhanced $500 jury prize, with Indie Memphis executive director Erik Jambor rounding up an out-of-state jury of award-winning indie filmmakers.
"Erik has been extremely helpful," says Fleming, who notes that with an independent jury, Live From Memphis staffers may now be able to enter their own films in competition, after withholding them in the past. "He's run something similar and has a lot of experience. He's been an adviser and helped us work out some kinks."
The audience prize will now be the full take from the screening's $5 admission, an incentive for filmmakers to prompt more friends to attend.
Lil Film Fest 9 Memphis: Fact or Fiction?
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Saturday, March 21st, 2 p.m.