This year the Memphis Film Prize had over 700 attendees who contributed in some way to the fruition of dreams and goals for all of the film festival’s participants. Whether it was a ticket purchase, a tweet commending an actor’s performance or sharing with friends in the theater lobby the effects a particular film had on them, each attendee played a role in keeping the directors, producers, cast, crew and sponsors focused on what lies ahead after a second successful year here in Memphis: continued work on impactful, engaging projects and the festival’s return in 2018.
When I learned at the awards ceremony that Memphis Film Prize would indeed be returning next year, I was ecstatic. Because to me this festival isn’t simply the presentation of a selection of films shown for our enjoyment, though that is certainly a big part of it. To me, having been privy to some of the backstories to these stories being shown on the big screen at Malco Studio on the Square, this festival is about changing lives and pushing people past limitations, both self-imposed and set by others. This festival is about taking the story of Life and rendering it in a way that is understood and appreciated by everyone who watches, regardless of where they came from, where they are now, and where they hope to be. It is a festival that brings together those who want to be part of change- be the change- and they step, with both feet, outside of their comfort zones to do so.
As I sat at the table with filmmakers awaiting this year’s results, the discussions that took place were about everything but making films (though they certainly often become the things of which films are made). We talked politics, education, and entrepreneurship. We talked partnerships and collaborations; finding our voices and knowing when to trust the voices of others. I don’t get starstruck but I was struck by the way young director and Sundance Ignite fellow Kevin Brooks presented subject matters that can be construed as raw, unrefined, and yet in the end we see beauty and Grace. Director Jaron Lockridge was convinced by his wife during the editing process to keep a moving scene from his film The Preacher fully intact. She saw the scene through eyes that, as a woman and a mother, saw it differently than he did. I believe this uncut scene is partly the reason why, as Memphis Film Prize Executive Director Gregory Kallenberg expressed, “the judges connected with the purity of the project.”
Robb Rokk and Tracee Roderick Comfort learned a lot about trust through the process of creating their film The Game. As director and co-producer, respectively, they trusted that a first-time screenwriter could deliver a story powerful enough that “people [would] go away dealing with it, wrestling with it.” That is precisely what happened as the film addressed the horrors of sex trafficking in a way that, Rokk explains, was “family-friendly and non-gratuitous”. They trusted their intuitions by casting a lead actor “[who] did not fit the casting description but was a perfect fit for the role.” Selected as one of the festival’s top three films, The Game will be shown at this year’s Indie Memphis film festival, along with Tracy S. Facelli’s Favorites and the Memphis Film Prize 2017 winner We Go On.
A collaboration between Italian transplant Matteo Servente and esteemed Memphis writer Corey Mesler (who also co-owns Burke’s Book Store with his wife Cheryl), We Go On reminds us that at the end of the day and at the end of our lives when we are at our most vulnerable, we are all more alike than we are different. We face the same fears, celebrate the same victories, hold on to the same regrets: replaying the same record of mistakes and considering, until the very end, how we might have done things another way. But we go on knowing that as long as we air in our lungs, we have the capacity to be a part of change. And be the change.
To everyone who left an imprint on our hearts and to all of the sponsors who made Memphis Film Prize possible, including our very own cityCURRENT, thank you. We’ll see you next year.
Viva La Film Prize!
For more information on Memphis Film Prize please visit www.memphisfilmprize.com.