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On Location: Memphis Reaches Out

In its 17th year, the film festival embraces diversity in the arts.

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The cultural role of the film festival has changed quite a bit since the Memphis International Film Festival first screened in 1999. The festival has already reinvented itself once when it was renamed On Location: Memphis, and festival director Angela D. Green says adapting to the changing filmic landscape is never far from her mind. "It's a question I've been grappling with ever since I've taken over the position. With my being an entertainment attorney by trade, the business side of the industry has pretty much been my forte. When looking at the film and music community landscape here, opportunities and ways of creating pathways toward monetizing the work, the content that is created by the filmmakers here and the musicians here, that's where we can always use additional help in our direction ... We're always looking at creating programming that has that in mind. They both can be economic drivers and make a direct economic impact on the lives of the filmmakers and artists who are here. That's good for the whole community."

Green is in her second year as director. "It's a volunteer position," she says. "I enjoy just working with the artists and filmmakers and seeing what we can do for the film and music community. We're trying to make an impact by bringing the international world to Memphis and showcasing them here."

After kicking off with a party the night of Thursday, August 11th at the Hard Rock Cafe, screenings start at Malco Studio on the Square on Friday at noon with a block of documentary shorts. At 6 p.m., the Bollywood hit Nil Battey Sannata (The New Classmate) will make its American debut. Green says the festival board made a decision to reach out to Memphis' sizable Indian community. "Our international liaison Ruth Talaiver actually traveled over to India to make connections for us in Bollywood," Green says.

Local flavor on Friday night is provided by The Wizard of Beale Street. Director David Goudge created this documentary about the life of the Beale Street Flippers' Rod Bonds, tracing his story from the triumphs of his halftime-shattering street acrobatic troupe to the tragedy of the shooting that forced his retirement from performance at age 24.

The night concludes with another documentary, Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America by director Matthew Ornstein. Davis is an African-American, professional pianist with an odd hobby: He seeks out and befriends Klu Klux Klan members. "We think it's a timely film that will spark some serious conversations," Green says.

Also on Friday night is the second year of an event unique to On Location: Memphis. Reel Art picks a pair of Memphis artists to collaborate on a film-themed piece. This year's artists Sir Walt and Marino Joyner-Wilson will unveil their work at South Main's Art Village Gallery, and the winners of July's On Location: Memphis shorts competition will screen their work. "We're bringing together visual art, music, and film in one event," Green says.

The Five Heartbeats director Robert Townsend will be on hand to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his beloved soul musical.
  • The Five Heartbeats director Robert Townsend will be on hand to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his beloved soul musical.

Screenings at Studio on the Square continue on Saturday, culminating with the 25th anniversary screening of The Five Heartbeats. The musical was a sleeper hit in 1991, and it has accumulated a sizable cult following over the intervening years. Writer, director, and star Robert Townsend and co-star Leon Robinson will be feted with a red-carpet reception and screening at 7 p.m. "It's become classic soul cinema," Green says. "People are really excited, so when the opportunity presented itself, we thought that was something the community would really enjoy."

For a complete schedule of the weekend's events, visit onlocationmemphis.org, where festival passes from basic to VIP level are available.

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