Indie Memphis held its second annual Youth Film Fest this past weekend at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education, naturally. The centre plays a pivotal role in the Orpheum Theatre Group’s mission to “take students on a learning adventure, make the arts accessible to all Mid-South families” and they did just that when Indie Memphis filled their space on Saturday with more young filmmakers per square foot than you’ll find on any Hollywood studio lot. They also filled this space with industry leaders who have reached pinnacles in multiple areas of their entertainment careers and could very well be led by ego but instead are guided by truth, sharing pivotal lessons that were manifested before most of us left the building that evening.
Memphis screenwriter and director Morgan Jon Fox shared many pieces of applicable wisdom during his interactive workshop, the event’s first. While the students were excited to hear about his finished projects, they leaned in a little more when he spoke of what it took to get to the finish line. “There must be a willingness to fail; my first ten films were terrible” Fox said from the stage. And an understanding that “much of being an artist is being in isolated space,” creating and nurturing the ideas that will eventually make their way to bustling film sets. Following the workshop, during breaks in the festival’s schedule, I looked around and felt that many already understood this: they sat alone, in nooks and corners, the pens in their hands moving rapidly across the notebooks on their laps. I believe it is often in these moments of intentional isolation wherein their young minds silence the distractions and bring to life that which has been cultivating inside of them- and won’t go to sleep.
“Keep asking yourself: is there something else that brings me joy that won’t go to sleep? If [it won’t go to sleep], if it’s still in you, hang in there. That’s God’s voice in you.”
This was the advice given by director, producer, screenwriter and author Tom Shadyac whose name is as synonymous now with philanthropy as it is with blockbuster movies. He spoke to a young man who shared his struggle of pursuing a calling in the arts without succumbing to the pressures of a world that often asks this calling be sacrificed for a “stable career.” Soon thereafter audience members, all of whom were middle and high school students, asked variants of the same question: how do I do what I love and create change in the world around me while doing it? They worried about making enough money to survive but weren’t driven by the concept of making money. They wanted to follow their hearts but were intent on making sure those around them found fulfillment in their lives, too. Tom reminded them, and instilled in them, “Art is a service industry. You (young artists) are going to help Memphis heal. Art is a tool that not only changes the world but changes us.”
There were so many present at the Indie Youth Film Fest who used their extraordinary tools to build a fort of protection around the young men and women who sought a place where they could freely express their truths without fear of judgment or ridicule. Within these walls they laughed, learned and paused when award-winning director Craig Brewer asked them to consider their worlds, their stories and all the characters in it. They let down their guards as moguls became mentors, as those who often quietly regulate from behind-the-scenes lent their voices to uplift and encourage this group of young people who understood the risk in sharing their most vulnerable sides but took that risk anyway because every staff member and volunteer with Indie Memphis assured them the work of their hearts would be protected.
“Why do we make movies? We want to express something...[and] we’re changing ourselves on the inside.” –Tom Shadyac
Twenty-five films were screened as part of this year’s Youth Film Fest competition. Some made us gasp or cringe with their unexpected turns of events and others made us giggle or silently reflect on similar experiences in our own lives. There were themes of love and themes of loss, and all I believe were asking us to stop and consider the sources. It takes a special kind of bravery to sit amongst your peers as a teenager and watch them watch you deal with the excruciating pain of heart break, substance abuse and death- blaming yourself for much of it when you really weren’t the cause of any of it. It takes a special kind of compassion to watch your peer pour out his heart on the big screen, knowing that in another place there may have been snickering but here, in this place, there is reverent silence.
They make movies. And because of it we are all changing on the inside.
To learn more about Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest and all other annual events, please visit www.indiememphis.com
Winners of the 2017 Indie Youth Film Fest
Best Middle School Film: Chips
Directed by Chris Sims, Thomas Bongiolatti (Schilling Farms Middle)