‘FERAL’ UN­LEASHED

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - STAGE - By John Bei­fuss

The word means “wild” and “un­tamed,” ac­cord­ing to Mer­riam-web­ster, but “Feral” has been on a leash for close to two years, held in check by the un­cer­tain­ties of a shift­ing en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Such re­stric­tions end Thurs­day. A long-an­tic­i­pated project for close ob­servers of the Mem­phis film scene, “Feral” goes pub­lic with a screen­ing of five of its eight episodes at Stu­dio on the Square. That same day, the en­tire pro­gram be­comes avail­able as the first “orig­i­nal se­ries” on Dekkoo, a sub­scrip­tion stream­ing ser­vice on the model of Net­flix and Hulu.

“Feral” is the most am­bi­tious project to date for Mem­phis film­maker Mor­gan Jon Fox, a beloved fig­ure who emerged from the do-it-your­self video scene of the turn-of-the21st-cen­tury to be­come a men­tor to younger cre­ators and a key con­trib­u­tor to sig­nif­i­cant “in­die” projects here and around the coun­try.

Shot on a tiny bud­get in and around Mem­phis in late 2014, “Feral” stars Seth Daniel (he dropped his last name, Rabi­nowitz, for credit pur­poses), Jor­dan Ni­chols, Leah Beth Bolton and Chase Brother as young friends work­ing to shuck the husks of ado­les­cence and emerge as in­de­pen­dent, cre­ative adults in a world filled with won­der­ful choices, fas­ci­nat­ing chal­lenges and at­trac­tive dangers (in­clud­ing drugs).

“To me, the show is about a group of Mem­phis artists who are in their early 20s, and they’re deal­ing with the same life is­sues that any­one is deal­ing with in their 20s,” said Fox, 37. “They’re try­ing to fig­ure out and nav­i­gate life.”

Fox said the HBO se­ries “Girls” and “Look­ing” were in­spi­ra­tions, but the loose, leafy Mem­phis vibe of “Feral” — brought to gauzy life by the lu­min­ist cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Ryan Parker — dis­tin­guishes the pro­gram from its more ur­ban and af­flu­ent coun­ter­parts.

The two lead char­ac­ters in “Feral” are gay, “but what I try to do is fo­cus on is­sues that are uni­ver­sal,” Fox said. “How to pay the rent. How to move on af­ter be­ing hurt by a re­la­tion­ship. The search for an iden­tity — ‘What am I go­ing to do for the rest of my life?’ ‘Who am I?’

“These are peo­ple that are part of a greater arts com­mu­nity in Mem­phis,” Fox said. “They are not just part of an en­closed ‘gay com­mu­nity,’ and that to me is some­thing very spe­cial about Mem­phis. As an artist growing up, I was part of a ‘film scene’ or an ‘art scene,’ not just a ‘gay scene,’ and that may be sur­pris­ing for peo­ple who aren’t from the South.”

Even so, “Feral” was funded to be the first orig­i­nal se­ries for Dekkoo, a long­planned dig­i­tal network aimed at gay men. A start-up com­pany funded by film pro­ducer and in­vestor Derek Curl and head­quar­tered in Philadel­phia, Dekkoo launched Oct. 5. The im­pe­tus for the plat­form was the fact that such ser­vices as Amazon and Net­flix target only a frac­tion of their of­fer­ings at gay au­di­ences.

So far Dekkoo has ac­quired “no more t han 10,000 and no fewer than 5,000” sub­scribers, ac­cord­ing to Brian Sokel, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for the com­pany (which takes its name from the EnglishHindi slang term mean­ing to take a look or glance at some­thing).

Sokel said sub­scrip­tions have in­creased steadily A screen­ing of five episodes of Mor­gan Jon Fox’s Mem­phis se­ries. 7:30 p.m. thurs­day, stu­dio on the square. tickets: $10. A cast-and-crew Q&A will fol­low. the full se­ries be­comes avail­able thurs­day at www.dekkkoo.com. Dekkoo sub­scrip­tion: $9.99 per month.

each month, thanks i n part to a sub­stan­tial li­brary that in­cludes most of the ti­tles han­dled by such gay-fo­cused dis­trib­u­tors as Wolfe, Strand, Water Bearer and TLA. (Among these movies are such Mem­phis-made fea­tures as Fox’s “Blue Cit­rus Hearts,” from 2003, and Ira Sachs’ 1996 de­but, “The Delta.”) A Dekkoo sub­scrip­tion costs $9.99 per month.

Sokel said Dekkoo plans a ma­jor pub­lic­ity push to co­in­cide with the de­but of “Feral,” which will be fol­lowed over the next sev­eral months by other orig­i­nal pro­grams, in­clud­ing “Love Is Blind,” a blind-date re­al­ity show. He said Dekkoo al­ready wants a sec­ond sea­son of “Feral,” as­sum­ing the re­sponse is pos­i­tive. A re­cent story in Out — the high­est-cir­cu­la­tion mag­a­zine de­voted to LGBT life­style and cul­ture — praised “Feral” as “an au­then­tic queer drama” high­lighted by such “frag­ile” and Mem­phis-spe­cific mo­ments as “a ro­man­tic date in the cy­press-strewn marshes along the Wolf River.”

Curl re­cruited Fox for Dekkoo be­cause he ad­mired the Mem­phis film­maker’s early work. “He can ex­press vis­ually what is the South­ern ex­pe­ri­ence of con­tem­po­rary gay youth, and the world loves South­ern sto­ries,” Curl told The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal in 2014. “I com­pare Mor­gan to Hor­ton Foote and Ten­nessee Wil­liams, ex­cept Ten­nessee Wil­liams was a drunk and Mor­gan’s not.”

In “Feral,” Fox and his col­lab­o­ra­tors “ex­press” them­selves “vis­ually” with what might be called ma­nip­u­lated re­al­ism. The light­ing is nat­u­ral, in that it comes from the sun or from ar­ti­fi­cial sources (such as lamps or streetlights) present i n the scene, but Fox and Parker very care­fully staged the ac­tion to cre­ate po­etic ef­fects from the in­ter­play of light, per­form­ers and en­vi­ron­ment.

Said Fox: “I know that I don’t have a Hol­ly­wood bud­get; I don’t have Hol­ly­wood ac­tors or spe­cial ef­fects or any­thing. But what I do have is an abil­ity to cap­ture some­thing that feels real and that is au­then­tic to this re­gion and to what I con­sider my voice.”

Pho­tos By Breezy LUCIA

the cast of “Feral” in­cludes (from left) Leah Beth Bolton, Chase Brother, seth Daniel and Jor­dan Ni­chols. on thurs­day the se­ries goes up on the stream­ing ser­vice Dekkoo.

Mor­gan Jon Fox

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