Indie Memphis has existed for more than 20 years as part of an effort to create community through independent film while supporting the development of filmmakers. It serves film fans and the local industry through an annual festival, youth programming, yearlong programming and artist development.
The annual Indie Memphis Film Festival had over 12,000 attendees last year who came together to celebrate independent features, documentaries and short films from across the country. It’s more than films, though, as the Memphis music community is celebrated before every movie.
Changes to the festival over the past few years include an expanded footprint in nearby communities. Once centrally located in Midtown, the festival today reaches Downtown and East Memphis and has stretched to a week of events instead of just three or four days.
The programming also is now year-round thanks in part to Indie Memphis Nights, which occurs twice a week. One of those events is free and open to the public. The other is a ticketed event at a Malco movie theater. Memphis lacks an arthouse theater that exists in other cities and Indie Memphis Nights serves as an opportunity to bring more of those films to the city that otherwise aren’t likely to make an appearance on a big screen in the city.
“We thought that was important so that we’re engaging with the community every week instead of one big event per year,” said Executive Director Ryan Watt. “And we’re helping fill the void as a touring arthouse. The benefit is we can rotate programming to different areas of town. Different films are better for different communities and facilities.”
Indie Memphis also began a focus on youth programming in 2016 thanks to a grant that enabled a new annual festival in September that leads up to the main event. The youth festival since has expanded to include a mentor program and workshops, all of which are free for participants. The youth programming includes students from over 30 area schools.
“We had parents asking us for years if we could do a camp or some sort of programming for kids who are interested in filmmaking but we didn’t have the bandwidth or resources,” Ryan said. “We were awarded a GiVE 365 grant and then other sponsors and supporters came on.” The quality and number of submissions in that first year were impressive, Ryan added. “I expected silly skits but overwhelmingly it was serious subject matter, from issues of race to bullying. We knew we were onto something.”
The mentorship program is in part thanks to a partnership with Grizzlies Foundation. It serves students from seventh through 12th grades who are placed on teams of three and then paired with seasoned filmmakers who meet every couple of weeks to guide them through the process.
Ryan praised the growing theater scene in Memphis that works hand in hand with Indie Memphis to help grow the film industry in town, particularly the Overton Square Theater District and its range of facilities. But the future Downtown Malco Theater and Crosstown Concourse’s space will be big additions to the scene when they come onboard next year.
Indie Memphis welcomes volunteers as well as attendees. For more information, visit indiememphis.com.
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