Birds of a feather flock together and in flocking they generally adhere to a set of basic rules, two of them being alignment and cohesion. It is easy to understand then how members of the Memphis filmmaking community can flock to a newly established film festival and turn it into one of the city’s most successful creative forums. Last year, Memphis Film Prize made its debut here and far surpassed organizers’ expectations for attendance and audience involvement. I believe this was in large part due to that alignment and cohesion found within the city’s filmmaking community: the character traits which make it such a progressive and inclusive segment of our society. When Executive Director Gregory Kallenberg sought a place where he could duplicate the blueprint of his highly successful Louisiana Film Prize film festival based in Shreveport, Louisiana, he looked for a place where passion, purpose and production collided. He needed to find a place where ideas were brought to fruition; where, as artist and author Erik Wahl explains, the spark of creative insight results in the grind: the work of creativity.
“The first truth you have to understand about creative endeavors: the spark comes to life at the expense of the grind.”
Kallenberg found what he was looking for in a city known for its grind. And its grit. Memphis IS Grit & Grind.
At this year’s Memphis Film Prize we’ll see a few familiar faces from last year’s festival as well as a few faces new to the festival but very familiar to Memphians. Director Nathan Ross Murphy, whose film Bluff was very well-received by last year’s audiences (I eavesdropped lots in the theater lobby) has returned this year with his nominated short Muddy Water. The stakes are higher this year, as Ross expanded into a different genre and created more diversity among characters. His personal investment in the project intensified so as to capture a story fully rooted in truth: he trained at a gym every, single day for weeks to portray the lead character, a boxer, as best and honestly as he could. With help from last year’s Memphis Film Prize winner McGhee Monteith and well-known Memphis artist Caleb Sweazy, Ross shares, “Muddy Water has plenty of heart while highlighting mental health, love, and isolation, and I hope it's a special kind of lasting entertainment to the audience…this short has been literal blood, sweat, and tears, but an opportunity to see our hard work play out on the big screen this weekend amongst friends, family, and local movie goers in our home town makes every bit of the effort worth it.”
Making her Memphis Film Prize debut is popular local actress and industry favorite Rosalyn R. Ross. She is starring in two of the short films nominated into the top ten this year contending for the $10,000 grand prize: Sarah? and Grace. The trailer for Grace, which shows a mere snippet of her compelling performance, engages enough that I have already begun seeking answers to questions, wondering what will become of her with cautious optimism and a slightly heavy heart. Director and writer Marcus Santi, whose film last year Journey of the Son was one of the most moving, is back with You Don’t Know Jack Squat. I laughed from the beginning of the trailer to its end, showing Santi’s versatility as a creative with a project vastly different from his previous entry which was the impetus for self-reflection and a stark reminder of the power in love, forgiveness and faith. Desoto Arts Institute founder Robb Rokk continues his mission this year in and of creating opportunities for local talent with The Game.
The aforementioned filmmakers and artists along with their incredibly talented colleagues (for a full list of participants please visit the Memphis Film Prize website) have come together and, according to Kallenberg, “fostered a creative spirit which leads directly to economic development for the city of Memphis. To watch it grow the way it’s grown is phenomenal. It’s been a magical experience.”
If you want to be a part of this magic (and I really can’t fathom a reason why you would not) make plans this weekend to attend any of the numerous screenings at Malco Studio on the Square. After you have viewed all of the films you’ll have the opportunity to vote for your favorite and, perhaps, your favorite will be the $10,000 winner! Your attendance at this unique event gives you an opportunity to see and feel what Monteith has shared with anyone who will listen:
“The Memphis film community and the Memphis crew are exceptional. They really are. And they love filmmaking…If you have an idea, do it. Just do it. The power of vocalizing and actually doing something is how real change happens and it’s how real stories get told.”
For a tickets, a full festival schedule and trailers to the top ten films this year, please visit www.memphisfilmprize.com