In 2012 the Louisiana Film Prize was established, giving independent film makers a chance to showcase their work and an opportunity to fund new projects with an earned $50,000 cash prize as winner of this short film contest and festival. This year there were more entries received than ever before and all adhered to the rules necessary for consideration, particularly the one that sets it apart from all other film festivals: the entire production must be shot in northwest Louisiana. There has been so much good infused into both the region and the city of Shreveport, Louisiana through the implementation of this rule that executive director Gregory Kallenberg began looking for a place where this model could be duplicated. He chose Memphis.
During our brief phone conversation, Gregory spoke passionately about the similarities in having Memphis and Shreveport as backdrops for a competition of this nature. Just as Shreveport is considered by some the “unregarded stepchild” in comparison to New Orleans, Memphis is often underestimated in comparison to Nashville. But as is the case with many who are overlooked and underappreciated, they become the very ones whose potential is unmatched once given the space to be unleashed. He says that here in Memphis he saw a creative community filled with civic pride and, just as in Shreveport, “they don’t want you to fail.” When the inaugural Memphis Film Prize opened up to submissions this year, they received over fifty films; every, single one of them filmed entirely here in Shelby County!
This past Thursday, on what is usually a quiet evening for The Cove on Broad Avenue in Memphis, it was standing room only. Hopeful artists from every part of the film-making spectrum waited to hear the names of the top ten films vying to be winner of the 2016 Memphis Film Prize and its accompanying $10,000 cash award. As I watched strangers and acquaintances alike discuss their various projects, the room was filled with an air of comradeship, not weighed down by a sense of competition and comparison. The laughter (whether out of nervousness, uncertainty, doubt, fear or any of the other dozen emotions artists go through at these events) echoed throughout the packed room, quieted only by Gregory’s voice announcing his “favorite and least favorite” moment had arrived: opening the envelopes that determined which ten films were moving forward in the festival.
Prior to the names being read, Memphis Film Prize’s associate director Chris Lyon spoke on both the spirit and business of the industry, reflecting what Gregory mentioned during our earlier conversation: “we don’t want to see anyone fail.” On that note he expressed that whether a film was selected as a top ten nominee or not, all film-makers should be working on, or preparing to work on, their next project. This evening’s decision was not the end, he emphasized, but the beginning.
No one wants to see you fail.
This includes the many sponsors whom Gregory thanked and whose importance in the execution of Memphis Film Prize2016 was evident as he referenced them individually before the finalists were named. I was particularly proud when he spoke of the support received from Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club and its president Jeremy Park (River City Rising is part of the LPBC media family). There was no hesitation on Park’s end to help in some capacity once he understood the potential impact this festival could have on the Memphis community, particularly the arts community. Its parent festival, the Louisiana Film prize, has to date deposited an estimated $10 million into Shreveport’s economy.
The envelopes had been opened, the winning names called out. I looked around and the laughter had resumed. If anyone was upset over having not been nominated, there were no outward signs of such. Any feelings of disappointment, which are natural and expected, were superseded by congratulatory hugs and high-fives. This, I imagine, was what filmmaker liaison Dave Merrill meant when he talked about the soul of Memphis. Setting all else aside, it’s a soul that celebrates the good.
Learn more about the upcoming Memphis Film Prize Festival here→ memphisfilmprize.com