This week, the Indie Memphis Film Festival kicks off with a long weekend full of interesting programming. Especially noteworthy is the lineup on Thursday, October 30th — the festival's opening night — which features two films and a showcase with a focus on Memphis music.
For the past few years, the festival has worked hard to integrate local musicians into the proceedings via a partnership with the Memphis Music Foundation. So far, that partnership has yielded a series of Memphis music sampler CDs that were distributed to festival participants. There have also been appearances by several prominent music supervisors at panel discussions on music in film. But this year, the festival is kicking it up a notch by staging a showcase event at the newly reopened Lafayette's Music Room for several of the city's best local acts: the Memphis Dawls, Marcella and Her Lovers, John Paul Keith, Amy LaVere, Mark Edgar Stuart, and the North Mississippi All-Stars.
According to Indie Memphis head honcho Erik Jambor, the selection of Lafayette's as the venue was obvious. "Lafayette's is in the middle of our festival footprint, with the Playhouse, Circuit, and Hattiloo on one side, and the Studio on the Square on the other," he says. "It is the perfect fit for our pedestrian-friendly event, and its return couldn't have happened at a better time for us."
The programming of the showcase was initially built around The 78 Project, a movie appearing at the festival that features artists recording live, direct-to-acetate and in one take, to a 1930s-era Presto recorder. The results are spontaneous and engaging, with big time singer-songwriters like Marshall Crenshaw and Loudon Wainwright III mixing it up on screen with prominent locals like Keith, Rev. John Wilkins, and the Bo-Keys featuring Percy Wiggins. (Other Memphis-area acts such LaVere, Valerie June, the All-Stars' Luther Dickinson, and Sid and Steve Selvidge have participated in the project but do not appear in the film.)
"Of course we were drawn to Memphis because of its incredibly rich musical tradition," says Lavinia Wright, producer of The 78 Project. "Also, Alex (Steyermark, director) had recently directed a feature film there, and knew some of the fantastic musicians who then participated in the web series and movie."
Once The 78 Project participants LaVere and Keith were confirmed for the showcase, other up-and-coming local artists were then selected to fill out the bill.
"This year we built around a number of different artists who we felt represented a regionally rooted side of the Memphis music scene and had albums out in the last year or so, or projects on the way," says showcase organizer John Miller, of the Memphis Music Foundation. "Since The 78 Project film was showing and those folks had already recorded a number of local musicians, it made sense thematically and would help tie into something so that festival attendees would have a frame of reference. I also probably picked some of the artists because, selfishly, I'd love to see and hear them record for The 78 Project in the future too, but none of that has been discussed and only exists in my head."
The North Mississippi All-Stars, who have a film of their own in the festival entitled World Boogie Is Coming the Movie, will headline the showcase. The concert film — directed by the group's drummer Cody Dickinson and shot by local production team Piano Man Pictures — was filmed last year at the All-Stars' annual Thanksgiving reunion show at Minglewood Hall and features guest artists such as Kenny Brown, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Duwayne Burnside sitting in with the band.
"We're thrilled that Luther and Cody agreed to do a midnight set. It will certainly be a night to remember," says Jambor.
Aside from just putting on a dynamite show, both Miller and Jambor have higher goals in mind for putting together this showcase.
"It's clear through their year-round work that everyone at Indie Memphis has a heart for this city's creative community," says Miller. "Since music and film are inextricably linked, it seemed to us like a no-brainer to pair artists and film creatives during the festival for a party with the idea that it could open doors for future joint efforts. If we encourage opportunities for music supervisors and producers to find original, quality stuff here, then hopefully we can add a niche factor to this film festival and provide new collaborative and financially beneficial opportunities for Memphians. It's also just a good chance to put some of our best local talent on display when we've got guests in town."
"We want to expose visiting filmmakers and industry professionals to the current, living Memphis music scene," adds Jambor. "Hopefully connections will be made that leads to these artists being featured in film and television. But, at the very least, we get to show off some amazing artists to people who will talk about the show when they get home to Los Angeles or New York or wherever they're visiting from."
Moving forward, the hope is that the relationship between Indie Memphis and the Memphis Music Foundation can continue to bear fruit for both filmmakers and musicians alike, as well as help strengthen the brand of Memphis music to a wider audience.
"One of the major goals would be to see Indie Memphis become a film festival that is known by music supervisors as the best opportunity to see films with great music components and also catch shows from the current groups from Memphis that haven't necessarily been discovered and used already in films by the vast majority of their colleagues," says Miller. "In the future, I'd love to see us continue the showcase and maybe expand to a few different dates and locations with more acts throughout the weekend. It'd be great to include a music and film panel during the conference portion of the festival and find ways to encourage more dialogue that leads to meaningful work on music documentaries, scoring, licensing, etc.
"We'll always look for opportunities within the festival weekend that make sense to promote great original Memphis music, augment the festival's programming and partner with other groups that want to support Memphis artists."