Indie Memphis Film Fest Weekend Guide 

The 11th Indie Memphis Film Festival starts Friday with more than 100 films screening at Studio on the Square over the next seven days. For a full schedule, see IndieMemphis.com.

Here’s our guide to some of the potential highlights on tap at the festival this weekend:

Friday, October 10th:

Adventures of Power (7 p.m., Friday, October 10th): You can’t write a review of Adventures of Power without the words “competition air drumming.” That should be sufficient to determine your interest-level in a film that has the silly cranked to 11 — a movie that has all the moxie of a Mentos commercial.

Power (Ari Gold, who also wrote and directs) is the son of a copper-mine laborer (Michael McKean) in New Mexico. He air drums his way through his life, dreaming of sharing the good feeling he gets from Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” with the world. Power’s blue collar is an upturned jean jacket. His dad wants him to grow up, but Power argues, “I’m not pussyfooting, I’m double bass drumming.”

Power winds up in New Jersey to compete in a nationally televised air-drum competition. He’s mentored by Carlos (Memphis-native Steven Williams, Mr. X from The X Files), who used to drum in Gas Station, “the best funk band in Jersey,” before an accident took away his hands. Power’s main opponent is Dallas Houston (Adrian Grenier, Entourage), a son-of-a-billionaire cowboy country star. With much Neil Peart idolatry throughout. — Greg Akers

The New Year Parade (7:30 p.m., Friday, October 10th): This regional indie from Philadelphia is an accomplished downbeat indie about a couple of working-class siblings — twentysomething brother and teen sister — dealing with the rift between their increasingly estranged parents. It’s also set against the backdrop of an annual neighborhood vs neighborhood marching band competition, with the brother and father members of the underdog South Philly String Band. A mopey but moving indie-rock soundtrack adds to the film’s glumly empathetic realism. — Chris Herrington

Dance of the Dead (Midnight): Georgia native filmmaker Gregg Bishop makes a return visit to Indie Memphis with this midnight-movie about zombies invading a high-school prom.

Saturday, October 11th:

OMG/HaHaHa (Noon): Local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox’s third feature has its official Memphis debut after an earlier screening at New York’s Newfest. See our feature on Fox’s film in this week’s paper.

The Arts Interviews: A Compilation (Noon): Local filmmaker Joann Self Selvidge debuts a selection of her interviews with notable local painters, photographers, and sculptors, including the late Ernest Withers.

The Black List (1:15 p.m.): Film critic Elvis Mitchell conducted interviews (from off-screen) for this made-for-TV series of portraits of successful African-Americans, including Toni Morrison, Vernon Jordan, and Chris Rock. Mitchell, part of the Indie Memphis jury, is expected to introduce the film and field questions afterward.

’Bama Girl (2 p.m.): Are you inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories about shadow organizations who quietly control the world from behind the scenes? ’Bama Girl is a film that might change your mind. The tightly focused documentary isn’t about national politics or international intrigue though. Instead it follows Jessica Thomas, an ambitious African-American sorority girl who intends to play by the rules and buck the system at the same time by making an all-out bid to be elected Homecoming Queen at the University of Alabama.

Is there an organization called “The Machine” that controls student affairs in Tuscaloosa that nobody in the white Greek System likes to talk about? Does the organization exert political control outside the University of Alabama? Will Jessica Thomas be homecoming queen? Director Rachel Goslins has created a charming, modestly scaled portrait of America that is hopeful, but frustrating and spooky around the edges. — Chris Davis

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (2:30 p.m.): Wayne Burton collects 8-track players, knives, and religious art and doesn’t truck with either Republicans or “bleeding-heart liberal bastards.” Dallas Gilbert collects Elvis memorabilia, has emphysema, and likes pork chops. Wayne and Gilbert are also Bigfoot researchers and the stars of Jay Delaney’s documentary Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie.

When the Southern Ohio duo go out Bigfootin’, it’s not what you’d call scientific research. They set up camp in nearby state and national forests, film for hours with a camera, shout Bigfoot calls (Wayne’s specialty), talk to any Bigfoots in earshot in Native American (Gilbert’s), and then go back home and spend days going through the footage to see what they can see, hunting for the ever-elusive precise piece of footage that proves the existence of the American Sasquatch.

The narrative that emerges in the film isn’t the search for Bigfoot but the study of these two characters. For Wayne and Gilbert, Bigfoot research is a reach for connection to the spiritual and an escape from a hardscrabble life in an economically depressed town. If they ever find success, they’d use the fortune to get the roof fixed, and maybe get better equipment for future research.

The film documents an episode where Wayne and Gilbert are accused of a hoax and lies. But Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie suggests that what the men are up to is not kookery; it’s something more akin to folk art. That their story might be the most poignant thing you’ll see at this year’s festival is, well, not typical. — Greg Akers

Conversation with Craig Brewer (3:15 p.m.): Memphis filmmaker Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) is interviewed by Elvis Mitchell.

Heavy Load (4:15 p.m.): Jerry Rothwell’s Heavy Load is two documentaries crammed into a single film. One is brilliant. The other is embarrassing. One film is an annoying exercise in narcissism. The other is the rarest of all cinematic creatures: an inspirational film that actually inspires.

Heavy Load is about two years in the life of Heavy Load, a UK punk band mixing a pair of “normals” with a trio of musicians with sever learning disabilities. In the grand spirit of UK punk, the group is actually out to change the world with their music. They’re tired of social workers who take people like them home early in the evening just when all the fun is starting, and sing about a time when everybody — even people with special needs — get to “Stay Up Late.”

Unfortunately, at some point Rothwell decided he was Ross McElwee remaking Sherman’s March, and he turned the camera on himself. We see the filmmaker crying in his car, worrying how band dynamics will impact his film, and fretting about how his film is impacting the band’s dynamics. Ultimately he even has one of the band members interview him. The problem: Rothwell’s angst is boring. Moreover, it’s infantile compared to the daily challenges met and overcome by Heavy Load’s mentally challenged band members, who squabble and fight and overcome terrible obstacles and extreme prejudice to make something like beautiful music together. — Chris Davis

Bunnyland (5 p.m.): The local premiere of Memphian Brett Hanover’s documentary set in the low-rent tourist-trap environs of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and focusing on the mystery of 73 rabbits found slaughtered on the grounds of a miniature golf course.

Make-Out With Violence (6:45 p.m.): Make-Out with Violence is no perfect film. But as flawed no-budget indies go, this one’s toward the top of the food chain. One main reason: Make-Out with Violence is a hungry film.

Made in Henderson, Tennessee, by filmmakers the Deagol brothers (a.k.a. Chris Doyle and Andy Duensing), Make-Out with Violence is about the void left in the lives of the teenage friends of missing girl Wendy Hearst (Shellie Marie Shartzer) — and what happens to them when she comes back.

Shartzer is really fantastic as the film’s sputtering-to-life centerpiece — is she a zombie now, or a vampire, or a pet-cemetery-type regurgitation? Her physical acting is knockout. No explanation is given for the character’s undead return, though the presence of cicadas throughout suggests cyclical life and death. There are more questions than answers in Make-Out with Violence, which is why it’s so atmospherically effective. This is one creepy flick.

There’s a shifting tone to the film that makes it difficult to get a handle on: teen drama tugs against horror; gallows humor wars with elements of ’80s popular cinema. But the overall effect is that, whatever it is that’s going on, it’s something worth seeing. — Greg Akers

Song Sung Blue (7:30 p.m.): Insufferable ironists may get a good smirk out of Song Sung Blue, a documentary that won both the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year. Everyone else will be stunned, horrified, and heartbroken. Song Sung Blue is the first feature-length film by Greg Kohs, an Emmy-winning veteran of NFL Films. It chronicles in squalid detail — stained-underwear detail — the short, horrible, obscenely hopeful life of Mike Sardina, a spot-on Neil Diamond impersonator who thought he could ride his fantasy straight to the top. Sardina, who performed with his wife — an Abba/Patsy Cline tribute artist — was wrong.

By film’s end, we discover that Sardina was a Vietnam vet with a nasty job. And that he kicked his booze and heroin addictions long before anybody ever thought about making a film about him. But even at the high point of his career, when he and his wife perform “Forever in Blue Jeans” with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder at Milwaukee’s Summerfest Concert, it’s hard to imagine a time when life was tougher.

Song Sung Blue is a quirky Polaroid of an atypical family. It is also an essay on poverty, celebrity, beauty, and something like the American Dream. It’s everything you want from an episode of the Jerry Springer show but shot through with genuine humanity. — Chris Davis

Bi the Way (9:30 p.m.): Memphis native Brittany Blockman co-produces and co-directs this documentary about a “new sexual revolution” in the form of increasing bisexuality among young people.

Sunday, October 12th:

At the Death House Door (12:30 p.m.): This terrific documentary from the same team that produced the landmark doc Hoop Dreams opens with a man walking through a modest graveyard. In voiceover, he begins to tell his story: “Even to this day, I don’t understand how I got where I am. From 1982 to 1995, I was minister to 95 inmates who were put to death by lethal injection. I never intended to do 95. In fact, I didn’t intend to do one. But it happened.”

The subject is Carroll Pickett, who served as a death-row chaplain at a prison in Huntsville, Texas. After each execution he was involved in, Pickett recorded his account onto a cassette tape. One execution bothered Pickett more than others, that of Carlos De Luna, a man convicted of murdering a gas-station clerk whom Pickett came to believe was innocent. This brings Pickett into contact with a couple of Chicago Tribune reporters investigating the case, and then with De Luna’s sister. In following Pickett’s intimate journey through a thorny subject, filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert (the latter slated to attend the screening) deliver a sober consideration of capital punishment that eschews political sloganeering. — Chris Herrington

The Way I See Things (12:45 p.m.): Read more about local filmmaker Brian Pera’s feature here.

Neshoba (3:15 p.m.): This documentary about the notorious 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the town’s attempt to deal with the crime 40 years later, makes its regional debut after winning the “best documentary” prize at its recent world premiere at the Boston Film Festival.

The film was made with the participation of the “Philadelphia Coalition,” an interracial group of local citizens seeking justice and closure on the crime, and of the surviving parents and family members of the three slain activists: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Goodman’s mother is particularly moving remembering her and her husband awaiting the return of her sons remains after his body was finally discovered buried in the Mississippi wilderness: “I can see that picture, Bobby and me, waiting for that casket to come out of the airplane. I thought about all those parents whose sons were coming back from wars. And my son was coming back from a war. He was hero. A dead one.”

Neshoba follows the progress of a new trial of former preacher and racist rabble-rouser Edgar Ray Killen, thought to be one of the organizers of the crime, who dodged prosecution in ’64. The film shows a modern Philadelphia where white citizens have a mixed reaction to Killen’s prosecution — some seeking “justice,” many others urging to “leave it alone.” — Chris Herrington

Conversation with Giancarlo Esposito (4:30 p.m.): Actor/filmmaker Giancarlo Esposito, in town with his new feature Gospel Hill (see below), is interviewed by Elvis Mitchell.

Gospel Hill (6 p.m.): Giancarlo Esposito’s directorial debut focuses on the African-American residents of a South Carolina neighborhood who are forced out of their homes to make way for a multi-million-dollar golf-course development. With Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, Samuel L. Jackson, and native Memphian Chris Ellis. Memphian Scott Bomar, who served as music supervisor and composer on Craig Brewer’s past two films, serves the same role here, with regional artists such as Amy LaVere and Bobby Rush on the soundtrack.

The Order of Myths (8:30 p.m.): Mobile, Alabama, native Margaret Brown returned home to film this documentary about the film’s still-segregated Mardi Gras celebrations, the oldest in the country. With a familiarity with the city that lets her get great access, Brown delivers an observational gem of a film that lets the Mardi Gras culture of Mobile reveal itself in all its color and complexity, from a white society scion intent on challenging tradition but only so far to an African-American “queen” musing on the financial burden of the spotlight, to rowdy, working-class white interlopers looking for their piece of the high-society action. The Order of Myths won the Grand Jury prize for documentaries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.— Chris Herrington

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