The Indie Memphis Film Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and River City Rising is covering the event with a three part series themed "Giving When the Living Gets Tough”. Here, in part three, we look at various films, and filmmakers, from the festival’s beginning to end and how they all encompassed some aspect of the aforementioned theme.
This year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival opened its record-breaking event (more than 12,000 attended) with the film adaptation of Thom Pain (based on nothing), a one man show written by Will Eno which was nominated as a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Actor Rainn Wilson, who attended the opening night ceremony, stars as Thom Pain. As his character’s name suggests, the audience observes as Rainn, the sole performer in the film, wrestles with making sense of a life wrought with suffering and unanswered questions. During the monologue which is the film, the film which is the monologue, Pain evokes varying degrees of both laughter and introspection from his audience as “he’s going to try and save his life, to save their life, to save your life.” We learn in the end that his suffering is serving to help those watching these events unfold, that he has put himself in the position of giving back, even as he grapples with his own life’s shortcomings. Director Oliver Butler shared during the evening’s Q&A following the film: “That Pain could potentially save us is the message of hope.”
And we saw many messages of hope portrayed during the festival- from its opening night to its closing encore presentations this past weekend at Malco Collierville Towne Cinema Grill.
We saw filmmakers take some of their most personal, painful experiences and translate them into projects which made us audibly gasp and determine that we must figure out how to be part of a necessary change. In the MLK50 Hometowner Short series, Katori Hall’s Arkabutla (which won the Audience Award) kept me on the edge of my seat as I anticipated the actions of injustice towards which the film was hinting but reconciled, prematurely so, that surely it would not actually happen. It did. Kathy Lofton’s Senescence Lost brought me to tears as I wondered how we could allow our elders, those who have paved the way for us and those whose words of wisdom resonate with us every day, become victims to those whose consciences are questionable at best, appalling and disgraceful at worst. I could see her heart break on the screen and when I asked Lofton afterwards about the film, she expressed that her mission was to use these harrowing experiences to bring about awareness and make a difference. Through exposing some of life’s toughest scenarios, Lofton gave us a film short in length but far-reaching in its message, as emphasized to us by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “the time is always right to do the right thing.”
Director Matteo Servente again proved that pain is pain and it does not discriminate based on race or ethnic origin. I believe it is why this Italian transplant could so vividly convey the story of a grieving, native Tennessean in his film An Accidental Drowning, which won the Best MLK50 Hometowner Short award. Through his lens, Servente conveys with incredible depth and truth the gripping words of Charlie F. Morris, Sr. as he recalls the events surrounding his brother Jesse Lee Bond’s 1959 lynching. I am transported back to a time that I wish never existed but the very existence of which has led us here, to this time and place, where because of their sacrifices I have the freedom, as a Woman of Color, to sit in the same movie theatre and drink from the same water fountain as a White man. Through reliving the worst of times, Morris gave us all a gift in the reminder that our current freedoms carried hefty price tags, the ultimate cost of which should never be forgotten.
With more than 200 films screened over the course of seven days, I could name countless other films in various genres, from drama to comedy to documentary, that showed us repeated examples of giving when the living gets tough, from both on-screen subjects and those behind the cameras. The film subjects gave through exposing their own personal nightmares so that we could walk away with a heightened consciousness, as was the case with films such as A Bitter Pill to Swallow by director Anwar Jamison and Robert by Sarah Fleming and Joann Self Selvidge. The filmmakers gave to us by reliving some of these stories over and over, repeatedly tapping into whatever resources- internal and external- necessary to present us the final cuts that were always entertaining, often heart-changing and sometimes even life-altering.