Film, art, pol­i­tics and ‘Cabin Boy’ con­verged to cre­ate a po­tent mix at an­nual fes­ti­val

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Screen Vi­sions Boots Ri­ley,

Per­haps num­bers con­tain oc­cult sig­nif­i­cance, af­ter all, be­cause the 21st Indie Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val was an event re­framed to meet the needs and em­brace the chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury. Mem­phis, Mem­phis, many times Mem­phis. dystopic.

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“When you get enough di­ver­sity, you don’t have to con­cen­trate on di­ver­sity,” said Indie Mem­phis artis­tic di­rec­tor Miriam Bale, at the start of a Nov. 3 awards cer­e­mony at Cir­cuit Play­house that rec­og­nized films and film­mak­ers from such lo­ca­tions as Ja­maica, Aus­tralia, the East African na­tion of Eritrea and, of course, For a few days, the Indie Mem­phis fes­ti­val — which of­fi­cially con­cluded Mon­day night — rep­re­sented a “utopic” (Bale’s word) colony of artis­tic ex­pres­sion and per­sonal free­dom within a greater po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment that seems hos­tile, ag­gres­sive and

If that sounds hy­per­bolic, well just wait un­til Mem­phis film­maker Brett Hanover and his col­lab­o­ra­tors — Ben Siler, Kather­ine Do­han and Alanna Ste­wart — cre­ate what Hanover hy­pes as a “re­pro­duc­tive-rights sci­ence-fic­tion Western” ti­tled “Space Sub­ma­rine Com­man­der” with the $13,000 in “IndieGrants” money the group was awarded at the fes­ti­val.

“Oh yeah, it’s a mu­si­cal, too,” added Hanover, whose fic­tion-doc­u­men­tary hy­brid, “Rukus,” won the fes­ti­val Home­towner Award for Best Fea­ture. (The Home­towner awards rec­og­nize films largely shot in Mem­phis and Shelby County.)

With Bale, shorts pro­gram­mer Brighid Wheeler and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ryan Watt at the helm and vet­eran staff co­or­di­na­tors and man­agers Joseph Carr, May Todd, Ma­con Wil­son and Matt Ziebarth in sup­port, the fes­ti­val ap­peared to run in­cred­i­bly smoothly.

Watt said the fes­ti­val’s “to­tal au­di­ence” — a count of butts in the seats at all fes­ti­val events at eight key venues — likely will num­ber about 12,000, which means it would more or less match 2017’s record at­ten­dance.

More sig­nif­i­cant, the fes­ti­val’s ros­ter of films and guest artists was le­git­i­mately and pur­pose­fully di­verse, with half the films in the Nar­ra­tive Com­pe­ti­tion cat­e­gory di­rected by what a press re­lease calls “fe­male-iden­ti­fy­ing film­mak­ers” and half by peo­ple of color. For the Doc­u­men­tary Com­pe­ti­tion, 43 per­cent of the films were by women and 71 per­cent by peo­ple of color.

Mem­phi­ans may re­mem­ber some past com­pet­ing fes­ti­vals that strained for di­ver­sity at the ex­pense of qual­ity. That has not been at all the case with Bale, a long­time New York critic who re­cently re­lo­cated to the “in­dus­try” town of Los Angeles, where she will con­tinue to be well sit­u­ated to make con­nec­tions to ben­e­fit Indie Mem­phis. In fact, shortly be­fore the fes­ti­val, Bale es­sen­tially was pro­moted from fes­ti­val “se­nior pro­gram­mer” to year-round “artis­tic di­rec­tor,” mean­ing she will take over the pro­gram­ming of weekly screen­ings and other events so Watt can bet­ter con­cen­trate on fundrais­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional du­ties.

Al­though Barry Jenk­ins — whose pre­vi­ous re­lease was the Best Pic­ture Os­car-win­ner “Moon­light” — was un­able to come to Indie Mem­phis for the lo­cal pre­miere of his new movie, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the di­rec­tor recorded a very warm and hu­mor­ous video greet­ing for the fes­ti­val that played be­fore three sold-out Stu­dio on the Square screen­ings of the film. Jenk­ins’ long­time cin­e­matog­ra­pher, Os­car nom­i­nee James Lax­ton, did come to Mem­phis, how­ever, to re­ceive the fes­ti­val’s in­au­gu­ral Cin­e­matog­ra­phy Award and to host an am­bi­tious cin­e­matog­ra­phy work­shop at Cir­cuit Play­house along­side an­other mas­ter of what might be called “new cin­e­matog­ra­phy.”

That mas­ter was Ash­ley Con­nor, whose bold in-cam­era ef­fects and fo­calplane ex­per­i­ments en­able her “to bend images and melt images,” she said, with­out the use of CGI. These sig­na­ture “Ash­cam” ef­fects made her lat­est film, Josephine Decker’s “Made­line’s Made­line,” an­other Indie Mem­phis high­light; in this con­text, it was per­haps no sur­prise that Bale an­nounced that Indie Mem­phis plans to main­tain a spe­cial, um, fo­cus on cin­e­matog­ra­phy. She said this makes sense be­cause the in­no­va­tive color work and un­con­ven­tional com­po­si­tions of Mem­phis pho­tog­ra­pher Wil­liam Eg­gle­ston are fre­quently ref­er­enced as a key in­flu­ence by young cin­e­matog­ra­phers.

Lax­ton and Con­nor are not the sort of movie peo­ple to at­tract au­to­graph seek­ers, but they typ­i­fied the top tal­ent Indie Mem­phis brought to the fes­ti­val this year. Other ex­am­ples in­cluded ac­tress/ film­maker Amy Seimetz; emerg­ing directors Melissa Hai­zlip (whose open­ing­night fea­ture doc­u­men­tary “Mr. SOUL!” was ar­guably the hit of the fes­ti­val) and Diego Llorente (the made-in-Spain “En­tri­algo“); pro­duc­tion de­signer Judy Becker (”Carol”); Chilean-born Se­bastián Silva (”Tyrel“); Spike Lee in­tern turned fea­ture di­rec­tor Tchaiko Omawale (”So­lace”); di­rec­tor An­drew Bu­jal­ski and per­former Shayna McHayle, rep­re­sent­ing one of the year’s ab­so­lute best films, “Sup­port the Girls”; and Mem­phis power pop vet­eran Van Duren, cel­e­brated in a new doc­u­men­tary, “Wait­ing: The Van Duren Story.”

“We’re try­ing to do some­thing po­lit­i­cal and artis­tic,” said Bale, who or­ga­nized pan­els that ex­am­ined no­tions of “women’s art” and “rep­re­sen­ta­tion” in film mak­ing, as well as events that were more Mem­phis-cen­tric and less heavy, such as film critic Sheila O’Mal­ley’s il­lus­trated talk on “Elvis in Hol­ly­wood.”

An­other Indie Mem­phis in­no­va­tion was a two-day Black Cre­ators Fo­rum that cul­mi­nated in a “pitch rally” at Play­house on the Square; at that event, would-be film­mak­ers pitched ideas to a jury in hopes of claim­ing a $10,000 prize from Epi­cen­ter Mem­phis to en­able them to shoot an in­de­pen­dent film here next year. The win­ner was Mem­phis’ Dave God­bout, whose pro­posed fea­ture — a video jour­nal­ist at­tempts to doc­u­ment the pro­duc­tion of an all-white re­make of “New Jack City” — would con­tinue a trend in which black film­mak­ers are mix­ing fan­tasy, satire and com­edy to tackle is­sues of racism and so­cial in­jus­tice that in the past typ­i­cally were treated with solem­nity. (Some ex­am­ples: “Get Out,” “Chi-Raq,” “Sorry to Bother You.”)

An­other film­maker who con­trib­uted a mean­ing­ful video mes­sage for the fes­ti­val was Mem­phis-born Ira Sachs, who filmed him­self in Sin­tra, Por­tu­gal, on the set of his lat­est fea­ture film, which stars Is­abelle Hu­pert, Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei and Greg Kin­n­ear (and which Nov. 3). The video was Sachs’ tribute to his cousin and collaborator, Mem­phis pro­ducer Adam Ho­hen­berg, win­ner of this year’s Indie Mem­phis Vision Award, given to those who have made a “per­ma­nent im­pact” on the fes­ti­val and Mem­phis film.

Videos aside, the fes­ti­val’s big­gest “celebrity” gets were prob­a­bly Boots Ri­ley and Chris El­liott (or, rather, the en­tire El­liott fam­ily, more or less).

Ri­ley, 47, is the Oak­land-reared po­lit­i­cal or­ga­nizer, hip-hop artist and film di­rec­tor whose de­but fea­ture, the afore­men­tioned “Sorry to Bother You,” is a sci­ence-fic­tion-tinged sur­real satire that owes a debt to Terry Gil­liam’s “Brazil” (1985), which Ri­ley ac­knowl­edge by re­viv­ing that film for an Indie Mem­phis screen­ing.

Ri­ley’s well-at­tended pub­lic talk Nov. 3 at Play­house (this Boots was made for talkin’?) was ar­guably the most mem­o­rable event of the fes­ti­val, as the film­maker un­packed the bag­gage of art, race, cap­i­tal­ism and other forces in ways that were re­veal­ing and amus­ing.

Ri­ley — whose “Sorry to Bother You” cri­tiques racial bias and workplace im­bal­ance — em­pha­sized that all movies are “po­lit­i­cal,” how­ever es­capist or com­mer­cial they may be.

“They all have a view­point,” he said. “The dan­ger­ous ones are the ones that we think are not po­lit­i­cal. We ac­cept them, and their ideas be­come our ideas, slowly but surely.”

Comic ac­tor and writer Chris El­liott, mean­while, hosted a Nov. 4 Play­house screen­ing of “Cabin Boy,” the bizarre com­edy di­rected by El­liott’s pal, Adam Resnick, that since its dis­as­trous the­atri­cal re­lease in 1994 has be­come, through some sort of slow-mo­tion sym­bio­sis, a cult clas­sic.

“You just saw the movie that ru­ined my ca­reer,” said El­liott, 58, joined on­stage by his wife, Paula Niedert El­liott, and his ac­tress daugh­ters, Bridey El­liott and for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” cast mem­ber Abby El­liott.

It was the day’s sec­ond re­union for the fam­ily: The four­some ear­lier ap­peared at a Stu­dio on the Square screen­ing of “Clara’s Ghost,” a hor­ror com­edy star­ring the El­liott clan and writ­ten and di­rected by Bridey that was named Best Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture at the Indie Mem­phis awards cer­e­mony.

In con­trast to the in­suf­fer­ably self­cen­tered comic per­sona that turned off un­com­pre­hend­ing and un­sym­pa­thetic crit­ics when “Cabin Boy” orig­i­nally was re­leased, Chris El­liott in per­son was charm­ing and gen­er­ous with his time, pos­ing with lit­tle kids and drunks alike, and evinc­ing ev­i­dently sin­cere ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the fans who res­cued “Cabin Boy” from Davy Jones’ locker.

“It was vil­i­fied,” El­liott said, adding a quip-as-plug for the film’s new Blu-ray edi­tion: “It had a tar­get on it, and now you can buy it at Tar­get.”

Watt — who him­self posed with El­liott — beamed.

“In terms of both the films and the feed­back we had from au­di­ences,” he said, “I truly feel this is the most suc­cess­ful fes­ti­val we’ve had to date.”

Here are the win­ners of the top awards at the 2018 Indie Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val.

❚ Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture: Bridey El­liott’s “Clara’s Ghost.”

❚ Doc­u­men­tary Fea­ture: Leilah Wein­raub’s “Shake­down.” (Honor­able men­tion to RaMell Ross’ “Hale County: This Morn­ing, This Evening.”)

❚ Home­towner Fea­ture: “Rukus,” by Brett Hanover, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Kather­ine Do­han and Alanna Ste­wart.

❚ De­par­tures Fea­ture: Kha­lik Al­lah’s “Black Mother.” (Honor­able men­tion goes to Christo­pher Makoto Yogi’s “Au­gust at Akiko’s.”)

❚ Sounds Fea­ture: Melissa Hai­zlip’s “Mr. SOUL!”

❚ Nar­ra­tive Short: Amanda Love­joy Street’s “Magic Bul­let.” (Honor­able men­tion went to Chris Ortega’s “The Bal­lad of Ju­nior.”)

❚ Doc­u­men­tary Short: Dar­ius Clark Mon­roe’s “Black 14.”

❚ Af­ter Dark Short: Jonathan Cuar­tas’ “The Horse and the Stag.”

❚ De­par­tures Short: Jenna Car­avello’s “Fron­tier Wis­dom.” (Honor­able men­tions went to “Hands” by Leah Shore and “I Taste Blood” by Lau­ren So­to­longo, Sa­man­tha Sobash and Rus­sell Sheaf­fer.)

❚ Mu­sic Video: “Gom­e­naki” (artist: Some­one Who Isn’t Me; di­rec­tor: Alkis Pa­pas­tathopou­los).

❚ Home­towner Nar­ra­tive Short: Will Rob­bins’ “Mi­nor­ity.”

❚ Home­towner Doc­u­men­tary Short: Kevin Brooks’ “Bon­fire.” (Honor­able men­tion went to “Singing for King” by Yalonda M. James, for­mer pho­tog­ra­pher with The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal.)

❚ Home­towner De­par­tures Short: Ja­son Allen Lee’s “Win­dows.”

❚ Home­towner Mu­sic Video: “I’m Yours” (artist: Faith Evans Ruch; di­rec­tor: Melissa An­der­son Sweazy).

❚ Ron Tib­bett Ex­cel­lence in Film­mak­ing Award: Suzan­nah Her­bert, “Wrestling.”

❚ Craig Brewer Emerg­ing Film­maker Award: Sephora Woldu, “Life Is Fare.”

❚ Soul of South­ern Film Award: John Rash’s “Ne­gro Ter­ror.”

❚ Dun­can Wil­liams Scriptwrit­ing Award: Ni­jla Mu’min, “Jinn.” (Honor­able men­tion to Gra­ham L. Carter’s “Shoot the Moon Right Be­tween the Eyes.”)

❚ The Indie Award (pre­sented to a lo­cal crew mem­ber): Breezy Lucia.

❚ The Vision Award: Adam Ho­hen­berg.

❚ Cin­e­matog­ra­phy Award: James Lax­ton, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

❚ Ac­tor of the Year Award: Shayna McHayle, “Sup­port the Girls.” ❚ Poster De­sign: “New Money.” ❚ Poster De­sign, Au­di­ence Award: “Wait­ing: The Van Duren Story.”

❚ Au­di­ence Awards: Ja­son B. Kohl’s “New Money” (Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture); “Wres­tle” (Doc­u­men­tary Fea­ture); “Mr. SOUL!”(Sounds Fea­ture); Lynne Sachs’ “The Wash­ing So­ci­ety” (De­par­tures Fea­ture); Greg Carey and Wade Jack­son’s “Wait­ing: The Van Duren Story” (Home­towner Fea­ture); Mark Goshorn Jones’ “Best Wed­ding Gift” (Home­towner Short); “New Whip, Who Dis” (Home­towner Mu­sic Video. Artist: Daz Rinko. Directors: Daz Rinko, 35Miles, McKen­zil Web­ster).

COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL; GETTY IMAGES ILLUSTRATION John Bei­fuss Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TEN­NESSEE Po­lit­i­cal or­ga­nizer, hip-hop artist and film di­rec­tor

Boots Ri­ley was much in de­mand for self­ies at the Indie Mem­phis Film Fes­ti­val. JOHN BEI­FUSS/THE


Here comes the Bridey: Writer-di­rec­tor Bridey El­liott won the Indie Mem­phis Best Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture Award for "Clara's Ghost." BEI­FUSS/THE COMMECRIAL AP­PEAL

Live mu­sic per­for­mances be­fore ev­ery

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