Indie Memphis Film Festival recap: ‘Mystery,’ Malco, more

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Cynthia Erivo says ‘Harriet’ film is about ‘a universal hero’
AP, APThis week’s news that Indie Memphis next year will take control of an auditorium at the Malco Studio on the Square to effectively create a full-time “art-house” cinema marked the climax of what may have been the organization’s most successful film festival season to date, in terms of revenue, ticket sales and impact.Even seemingly unflappable New York director Jim Jarmusch, making his long-awaited festival debut to host a 30th anniversary screening of his made-in-Memphis masterpiece, “Mystery Train,” seemed impressed with the vibe.”I’ve got real love for this place,” he said. “I’ve got a big part of Memphis in me.”The news of the Indie Memphis/Malco partnership broke Monday, on the final day of the “official” festival (which continued with three nights of encores), and not long after The Commercial Appeal reported that Indie Memphis will host a Dec. 2 screening of Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated gangster epic “The Irishman,” a movie that Malco otherwise had not planned to show, due to the theater chain’s policy of excluding Netflix productions.Although some details remain uncertain and a launch date is indefinite (the so-called “Indie Memphis Cinema” likely won’t open before March), the Indie Memphis-Malco cinema-within-a-cinema partnership appears to represent an ingenious solution to the decades-old desire among film buffs for a legitimate art house in Memphis — a desire that preceded and then was surpassed by Nashville’s reimagining of the Belcourt Theatre, an ex-Malco site that was renovated and reopened in 2016 as a three-screen state-of-the-art nonprofit independent “film center.”The news about “The Irishman” and the “Indie Memphis Cinema” essentially eclipsed the good news about the festival itself.Ryan Watt, Indie Memphis executive director, said the festival’s 22nd edition likely will surpass the revenue and attendance records the event set in 2017, when 12,000-plus ticket-holders attended the fest. The figures represent a bookend to the records established before the festival even started: More than 260 films were screened Oct. 30-Nov. 4, and about 125 volunteers participated. A not-for-profit organization that is intended “to create community through independent film and support the development of filmmakers,” according to its mission statement, Indie Memphis has become especially true to its “indie” ethos in the past couple of years, thanks to the addition of artistic director Miriam Bale, a nationally known critic who launched the festival’s “Black Creators Forum” and whose programming for features and panels has emphasized the contributions of women and of people of color.The result has been a festival that seems to more closely mirror the demographics of its host city more than many such “community” events. Tweeted New York-based filmmaker Chris Osborn, after returning home from Memphis: “It’s rare for a film festival to be radical in its approach and programming, relevant within the larger industry, and nurturing to its local community in a material way, but @indiememphis does all three.”Many screenings at the festival’s seven film venues were sold out, including a “secret screening” preview of the acclaimed Adam Sandler drama “Uncut Gems,” which featured a video introduction from its brother writer-directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, who expressed jealousy that the Grizzlies rather than the Knicks were able to draft Ja Morant.Some other hot tickets included “Frankie” with Isabelle Huppert, hosted by its director, Memphis-born Ira Sachs; packed opening-night screenings of “Harriet” and a short-film showcase at a new festival venue, the Crosstown Theater; and “Lil Buck: Real Swan,” which featured an onstage display of Memphis “jookin” by the internationally renowned Lil Buck and several hometown cohorts. A longtime supporter of Indie Memphis, Sachs marveled that the event has evolved from its humble coffee shop origins to “this vibrant community of people who care about the cinematic arts, and just community in general.”Sachs said Memphis is “really where I learned that I could and would be allowed to be a filmmaker.” Although the budgets and casts of Sachs’ films have expanded, the core “indie” integrity remains intact: “I’m still making personal cinema that comes from a place of my own experience.”The big news in advance of the festival was the appearance of New York filmmakers Sara Driver — feted with a career retrospective — and Jim Jarmusch, Driver’s longtime personal and professional partner.Responsible for what is still arguably the greatest of all Memphis movies, the haunted and funny “Mystery Train,” Jarmusch has been at the top of the festival’s “wish list” for the event’s entire history. The quintessence of cool, judging from the dark glasses, deadpan expressions and enviable shocks of silver-white hair that have characterized his photographic portraits for decades, Jarmusch had been theorized by some to have become too “big” for Memphis’ mid-sized festival in the busy years since “Mystery Train,” but in fact he proved to be entirely warm, accessible, gregarious and apparently sincerely grateful for his reception at the event..Often accompanied by a New York filmmaker friend, Michael Almereyda, director of “William Eggleston in the Real World,” Driver and Jarmusch attended the lively festival awards ceremony as well as each other’s films, and Jarmusch was the guest of honor at two sold-out events at Playhouse on the Square: a Saturday revival of “Mystery Train,” which was followed by a Jarmusch question-and-answer session with Bale and the audience, and a Friday screening of the director’s most recent movie, the mournful Mad Magazine-influenced zombie spoof “The Dead Don’t Die,” which was followed by a public conversation between Jarmusch and Richard Brody, the film editor at The New Yorker.”I’m so delighted to be in Memphis again,” Jarmusch said after “Mystery Train,” a movie that features Rufus Thomas, the ghost of Elvis, a visit to Sun Studios, a boarded-up Stax (before it was demolished and then resurrected as a museum), a near-empty Central Station and other definitively Memphisian conjurations. “There’s something so strong that pulled me here before I’d even been here.” Jarmusch called Memphis “a fascinating and very important place on this planet, and musically really so amazingly important and so deep, and it’s still fueling me very much. So I’ve got a real love for this place.”At one point, the director pulled out a small notebook and read a list of names of “some people whose work attracted me before I ever came here: Otis Redding, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Junior Parker, B.B. King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Eddie Floyd, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Little Milton, Sam and Dave, James Cotton, Booker T., the Bar-Kays, Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie, Charlie Feathers, Junior Wells, the M.G.’s, etc., etc.”Noting that the Memphis of “Mystery Train” is haunted (perhaps literally) by its past, Jarmusch commented: “The funny thing about ghosts is you can’t kill ’em, ’cause they’re ghosts.”I arrived here yesterday, and I went immediately to Beale Street, to just see what it looks like, and it’s a bit disconcertingly touristic — and yet these plaques, these musical notes in the pavement, like on Hollywood Boulevard, all celebrating the musicians of Memphis, was still very moving to me. … The ghosts are there, the feeling’s there, the spirit’s there.”I love Memphis, and I owe it something. Because for me, when something culturally moves you in your life, it’s yours. Then it’s part of you forever. And that for me can be African music … or certain aspects of Eastern philosophy, or Japaneses woodcuts, but once something really moves you, then for me that’s part of me now, I take it. So I’ve got a big part of Memphis in me.”The WinnersThe 2019 Indie Memphis Film Festival also awarded numerous prizes and jury awards. Here are the winners: Best Narrative Feature ($1,000 cash prize): Diana Peralta’s “De Lo Mio.”Best Documentary Feature ($1,000 cash prize): “Midnight in Paris,” by James Blagden and Roni Moore.Best Hometowner Feature ($1,000 cash prize): Louis Wallecan’s “Lil Buck: Real Swan.” Best Departures Feature, for edgy/experimental filmmaking ($500 cash prize): “Empty Metal,” by Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer.Best Sounds Feature, for films about music ($500 cash prize): Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s “Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba.”Best Hometowner Narrative Short ($500 cash prize): Kyle Taubken’s “Soul Man.”Best Hometowner Documentary Short ($500 cash prize): David Goodman’s “Floating Pilgrims.”Best Hometowner Music Video: Kevin Brooks’ “Healing Creek,” starring Talibah Safiyah.Best Narrative Short ($500 cash prize): Blair Seab McClendon’s “I’m the One Who’s Singing.”Best Documentary Short ($500 cash prize): Atieno Nyar Kasagam’s “Sidelots.”Best After Dark Short ($500 cash prize): Marc Cartwright’s “We Die Alone.” Best Departures Short: Jas Marie’s “Mirrors.”Best Animated Short: Sean McClintock’s “Into the Flame.”Best Music Video: Pong Tulyathan’s “Got It Got It,” by DarriusTheGreatest.Poster Competition: “Midnight in Paris.”The Soul of Southern Film Award: Kenny Dalsheimer’s “You Gave Me a Song: The Life and Music of Alice Gerrard.”The Ron Tibbett Excellence in Filmmaking Award: “The Unicorn,” by Isabelle Dupuis and Tim Geraghty.The Duncan-Williams Scriptwriting Award ($1,000 cash prize): Chyna Robinson, writer-director of “Ordinary Love.”The Craig Brewer Emerging Filmmaker Award: Numa Perrier, director of “Jezebel.”The Indie Award, presented to a crew member: makeup artist Alicia George.The Vision Award, to a person who has made “a permanent impact on the legacy of the Indie Memphis Film Festival”: board member, filmmaker, innovator Iddo Patt.Cinematography Award: Sean Price Williams, whose credits include “Good Time,” “Her Smell” and “Christmas, Again.”IndieGrant recipient, narrative ($13,000 value): Abby Meyers.IndieGrant recipient, narrative ($13,000): Noah Glenn.IndieGrant recipient, documentary ($13,000 value): Nubia Yasin.Black Creators Forum pitch-rally recipient ($10,000 prize): Nubia Yasin.Audience Award (voted on by festival-goers), Narrative Feature: Chyna Robinson’s “No Ordinary Love.”Audience Award, Documentary Feature: Raul O. Paz-Pastrana’s “Border South.”Audience Award, Departures Feature: Eric Baudelaire’s “Un Film Dramatique.”Audience Award, Sounds Feature: Kenny Dalsheimer’s “You Gave Me a Song: The Life and Music of Alice Gerrard.”Audience Award, Narrative Short: Taylor Vee Robinson’s “You Are Going to Explode.”Audience Award, Documentary Short: “The Love Bugs,” by Allison Otto and Maria Clinton. Audience Award, Departures Short: Nara Normande’s “Guaxuma.”Audience Award, Hometowner Feature: Louis Wallecan’s “Lil Buck: Real Swan.” Audience Award, Hometowner Narrative Short: Munirah Safiyah Jones’ “F*ckboy Defense 101.”Audience Award, Hometowner Documentary Short: “How We Fall Short,” by Brody Kuhar and Julie White.Audience Award, Poster: “Clemency.”Read or Share this story: https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2019/11/07/indie-memphis-film-festival-recap-mystery-malco-more/2509492001/

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