Saturday, December 31, 2005

Looking back and looking ahead

In many ways, 2005 was like being made to watch "3000 Miles from Graceland" over and over. On the other hand, 2005 was like being able to get away from that Kevin Costner disaster and check out the excellent real-life adventures of the scrappy Memphis movie scene. All of you can recite the Big Moments but allow me to refresh your recollection: Ira Sachs' "40 Shades of Blue" taking the big prize at Sundance, Craig Brewer's "Hustle and Flow" taking the other big prize at Sundance and "Walk the Line" being released to delirious reviews. But wait, there's more! There was the Elvis miniseries on CBS, a presence of Memphis and Memphis actors in "Elizabethtown" and then the "Black Snake Moan" shoot that kept things hopping in town.

That's only the Hollywood component; it's also been a lively year for local independent productions. Morgan Jon Fox seized on the controversial "Love in Action" group that claims to be able to turn gays straight. Fox's documentary, "What Does Love In Action Look Like," was screened at Indie Memphis and remains an ongoing project. Kentucker Audley’s film "Bright Sunny South" took Best Local Feature honors at the Indie Memphis Film Fest, and has been selected to screen at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival. "Act One" from Old School Pictures won Best Narrative Feature in the Hometowner category of Indie Memphis. Some of the other projects that made it to screening included "Delusions" by controversial director Robert Saba who had the cast improv the feature in John Cassavetes style; "Slow Down ... You're Dating Too
Fast" by M. David Lee III, which featured a large ensemble of area talent; touted young director Ben Siler's "Prom Queen"; Kris and Natalie Boyatt's "Rookie Bookie" (New Bridge Films) starring J.W. Williams played at the Memphis International Film Festival as well as the Appalachian Film Fest, the Magnolia Film Fest and the Tupelo Film Festival.

Production started and is continuing on many others, including "Divine Manipulation of the Threads" by Rusted Sun's Bevan Bell; "Just the Two of Us" by Keenon Nikita; Grim Sweeper by Edward Valibus Phillips and John Harvey's short "Across the River."

This wasn't intended to be a complete list. And that's great news for the local film scene, that there are so many things going on that it's tough to keep track. Meanwhile, other efforts have come about to make the most of Memphis movies. Two web sites have evolved to keep track of what's going on: the excellent that is mandatory for anyone in movies, music and any of the arts in and around town. It's got news, a calendar of events, showcase videos and a directory of folks involved in creative Memphis. And of course this immodest blog known as Memphis Cool Movies, really more of a bulletin board of info about auditions and links to relevant news items and such. You're here now, and I thank you.

The biggest issue was and is whether Tennessee will enact legislation to offer incentives to filmmakers the way Louisiana has done it. Louisiana has been raking in the money by luring movie and TV people to the state. Not even Katrina could much slow down the effort as productions moved from battered New Orleans to Shreveport which is still churning out entertainment. Tennessee cannot hope to stay in the game without competitive incentives. Linn Sitler of the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission has been working hard to bring this about at the state level. A deal allowing "Black Snake Moan" to use The Pyramid was a nice coup, but it was only a one-time event. Gov. Phil Bredesen formed a committee to gather facts and opinions on the benefits and intricacies of offering incentives and the committee has been touring the state. A report will be given to the General Assembly in a few weeks and that's when the lobbying begins. As much as it seems a no-brainer to allow incentives that more than pay for themselves, the fact is that it's all politics and many legislators will have to be convinced.

We may even have to offer them parts in our films. But that may be OK -- some of them have proven to be enormously entertaining.

That means that 2006 will be a huge year for moviemaking here. If competitive incentives are passed, the landscape will change overnight as it did in Louisiana. If not, then talent will be lured away and the state can forget about hosting a significant number of major productions.

But the indie spirit will thrive as it has been for years. "Delusions," for example, was made over a few weekends for $500. Indie directors are shooting when and where they can with whatever resources they can beg and borrow. Local crew and actors are game to help out to get some experience and be part of a lively creative spirit.

Stanley Kubrick was once asked by a young hopeful how to get into the movie making business. Kubrick replied: "Go make movies."

So go already.

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