Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lighting A Creative Spark In Memphis: Indie Memphis Returns

We’re as guilty as everyone else in taking for granted some special Memphis experiences that deserve more support and attention.

This week ushers in one of them for its 10th anniversary – Indie Memphis Film Festival.

Film festivals frequently show up as consultants’ recommendations for cities across the U.S., because they have so many benefits – they create vibrancy, they shake up local culture, they enrich the artistic milieu and more to the point, they are just plain fun.

The Spice Of Life

That’s certainly the case with Indie Memphis, which runs from October 19-25 with the screenings of all 120 features, documentaries, shorts and music videos taking place at Malco’s Studio on the Square, 2105 Court Street.

Of special interest are the roughly 12 locally made films. There’s also the juried competition, hands-on workshops and lectures by filmmakers, authors and academics.

The schedule of Indie Memphis, a project of Delta Axis, appears as eclectic as ever, and there’s the added bonus of 9 feature-length films from the Global Lens Film Series, the noble program promoting cross-cultural understanding through cinema.

Festival Benefits

As a result, the traditional Southern theme of Indie Memphis will be supplemented by some fascinating films from Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, Croatia, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Mozambique.

Across the country, film festivals are used as the vehicle to showcase history, culture and cuisine and illuminate regional issues. For example, Lexington, Kentucky, created a film festival a few years ago to address issues of diversity.

In other words, there are benefits from the film festivals that can’t be measured in economic impact. While all of us know the marquee festivals like Cannes, Tribeca, Sundance and Toronto (which Indie Memphis organizers attended to scout out some features for Memphis), perhaps the greater benefit of festivals like ours is helping to eliminate provincial thinking and serving as flint for a creative spark in the city at large.

Lighting A Spark


Of course, in the opinion of Memphis and Shelby County Film Commissioner Linn Sitler, it never hurts to acquaint film directors with the benefits of film-making in Memphis. After all, it was cult director Jim Jarmusch who launched the film industry here in the first place about 20 years ago.

In the rebranding of the Memphis Arts Council into ArtsMemphis, its proponents said it was intended to more properly focus on building a vibrant, creative culture in our city. Indie Memphis is just the kind of event that we need to strengthen and expand in our city, because at the end of the day, perhaps a full house at Indie Memphis is a greater testament to a creative culture in Memphis than increasing attendance at the symphony.

In the end, the objective for Memphis is to produce a creative cauldron where new artists, musicians and filmmakers are inspired, where new relationships are formed and produce new kinds of art and where a feeling of creativity is palpable in Memphis.

Creative Economy

Cities are beginning to realize how important the creative economy is to them – from Los Angeles to Toledo. Both of these cities have produced reports that quantified the importance of the creative economy – not just artists, musicians and filmmakers, but also architects, interior designers, toy makers, fashion, furniture making and design, arts colleges and galleries, museums, publishing and photography.

Unsurprisingly, in Los Angeles, the creative industry is the largest sector of its economy – employing about 1 million people and with revenues of $128 billion. Meanwhile, in Toledo, the 27-county regional economic impact was $2.4 billion.

To support workers in these creative companies, a number of cities are embarking on new programs to provide low-interest housing loans, to provide live-work space and to offer other incentives for arts-related industries. It’s a curious fact of life here that despite our platitudes about creativity and our alleged pride in our cultural traditions, we’ve done little to support the people who make them possible.

Artful Tax Incentives

While tax freezes were passed out with an alarming regularity, not to mention casualness, for any company who could fill out the forms, no thought has been given to what incentives could be developed to demonstrate that we take our arts and cultural workers seriously.

Hopefully, ArtsMemphis is serious enough about its new role in contributing to the creative of a vibrant culture community that it will turn its attention to what needs to be done at an organic and public policy level to seed these kinds of industries.

While the most glaring failure, despite repeated well-intentioned efforts, remains music; however, it just serves as the specific poster child for a general lack of attention to creative industries. Although Memphis was one of the first city to develop plans that addressed creative workers and hosted the Memphis Manifesto Summit, those short bursts of attention have never morphed into a sustained plan of action.

The First Step

There’s much to be done. There’s much that can be done.

We can take a step in the right direction by buying a festival pass and attending Indie Memphis Film Festival.

3 comments:

Tracy LAURITZEN WRIGHT said...

Thank you for highlighting the tenth annual Indie Memphis Film Festival. As the first film festival in the country to focus on southern film, and the only festival with an emphasis on Memphis filmmakers, we're proud to celebrate ten years of bringing independent southern cinema to Memphis audiences.

Just one correction, we do receive general operating support from ArtsMemphis through a Mosaic grant. ArtsMemphis also provided an arts enhancement grant to Delta Axis (the nonprofit organization that presents Indie Memphis) in 2005 to support our then-new Indie Memphis Micro Cinema program, which will resume in November for our 34th screening.

But, as you mention, there is still much to be done - Indie Memphis is a largely volunteer-run event. Without the dedication of a few individuals we would not be celebrating such a milestone anniversary this year. So, please do buy a pass and we'll see you at the festival!

Thank you,
Tracy Lauritzen Wright
Executive Director, Delta Axis

Smart City Consulting said...

Thanks, Tracy, for the comment and for all your hard work for Delta Axis and the festival. We weren't trying to imply that ArtsMemphis doesn't fund the festival; we were just making the case that it's the kind of funding that the organization ought to do more of. Any organization that rebrands itself and still manages to put a photo of Elvis on the cover of the magazine launching its brand needs help getting into this century. Indie Memphis is exactly the sort of project that it should promote, and in spades.

Roy said...

Great art cities start with great art and great art cannot be stopped.
Looking forward to the Indies.