Our cover story this week profiles some of the most compelling films and filmmakers with local connections at this week's Indie Memphis Film Festival. Here are a half-dozen less familiar titles we've seen and deem worth a look:
Side by Side (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Brooks Museum of Art)
This documentary co-produced and (sometimes awkwardly) hosted by actor Keanu Reeves is a thorough look at the distinction between photochemical and digital film processes that tracks the now seemingly inevitable transition from one to the other. Reeves corrals an astounding group of directors, both pro-digital (David Fincher, George Lucas, James Cameron) and partially resistant (Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan), but, perhaps more interestingly, interviews lots of high-level editors and cinematographers.
The film is on the dry side but is very detailed, tackling the question from many different angles, including some you may not expect. If you really care about film — and especially if you're a filmmaker — this is very much worth seeing. — Chris Herrington
Red Flag (Friday, 7 p.m., Circuit Playhouse)
Red Flag is an inside-out buddy/road film starring writer-director Alex Karpovsky as Alex Karpovsky, a confused and newly-single independent filmmaker on a driving tour of the South with his recently completed documentary, Woodpecker. Not so coincidentally, Red Flag, a semi-autobiographical feature, was shot while Karpovsky was touring Woodpecker, his semi-documentary feature, through the South. The result is an edgy screwball comedy that would pair well in a double feature with either Sullivan's Travels or Sherman's March.
Karpovsky is joined on his trip by Onur Tukel (who also directed the Indie Memphis feature Richard's Wedding) as a charmingly hyperactive children's book illustrator and by Jennifer Prediger as Tukel's new girlfriend with whom Karpovsky recently had a drunken one-night stand.
Red Flag takes all the elements of an Oxygen Channel weeper — bad romance, good hugs, self-help, and weird homeopathy — and turns them into a funny, character-driven romp through the peaks and valleys of self-obsession. Mostly valleys. — Chris Davis
We're Not Broke (Saturday, 1:45 p.m.,
Studio on the Square)
The headlines these days are full of one governmental budgetary crisis after another and the resultant call for cutbacks to social programs and other benefits. Uncle Sam has his empty pockets turned out. Especially in this election cycle, candidates are making huge political hay off of the notion that government is out of money, and it's time for austerity.
The documentary We're Not Broke debunks the notion. There's plenty of revenue to be had, the film says, in the form of a trillion dollars in corporate profits that aren't being taxed. While the lower and middle classes are paying their share, corporate America isn't. And the crime is aided and abetted by the government, natch.
We're Not Broke is in part a tax-evasion procedural, illuminating places like the Ugland House in the Cayman Islands, where the magic happens. The film also considers grassroots movements such as U.S. Uncut and Occupy working to change the status quo. — Greg Akers
Pilgrim Song (Saturday, 4:15 p.m., Circuit Playhouse)
This impressive, widescreen indie feature from Kentucky filmmaker Martha Stephens (who previously appeared at Indie Memphis with her debut, Passenger Pigeons) is full of local connections. It was produced by Nick Case and Ryan Watt of Memphis' Paper Moon Films. Local actress Caroline White has a small role. And Memphian Timothy Morton (co-star of Kentucker Audley's Team Picture) is the lead.
Morton is extremely well cast here as a recently laid-off high school music teacher who leaves a girlfriend he neglects for a two-month Appalachian hike, where he falls in, for a while, with a single dad living in a mobile home.
The handsome, widescreen, outdoor cinematography, keen sense of place, and feel for people outside the more typical urban indie world are impressive, and Morton is an utterly convincing presence at the center. — Chris Herrington
Crazy and Thief (Saturday, 7:15 p.m.,
Crazy and Thief is the latest love it or leave it musical fantasy from Cory McAbee, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker who splashed down on the festival circuit with his fun but frustrating sci-fi cheapie The American Astronaut. Crazy and Thief is like Waiting for Godot with McAbee's young children, Willa Vy and John Huck McAbee, standing in for Beckett's infamously static bums. Not much happens, and everything does.
Crazy and Thief follows two unsupervised children wandering through the streets, parks, and back alleys of Brooklyn, following a star map of their own devising, searching for Bethlehem and a time machine that only goes forward. Crazy, sometimes called Yaya, is 7. Clearly the brains of the operation, she's constantly improvising platitudes for Thief (alias Johnny) who's 2 and speaks in cryptic rambles that read like fortune cookies in the film's hilariously precise subtitles. How these children came to be alone is never addressed. They might not even know, and the film's tensions are all wrapped up in a marriage of unfettered joy and never-ending peril. If watching someone else's home movies, no matter how quirky or charming, sounds like torture, consider yourself forewarned. — Chris Davis
Very Extremely Dangerous (Saturday, 10 p.m., Playhouse on the Square)
Irish filmmaker Paul Duane and Memphis author and documentarian Robert Gordon have joined forces to tell the story of Jerry McGill, a Very Extremely Dangerous footnote in the rich history of Memphis music.
In 1959, McGill, who is described in Duane's wild, occasionally flinching documentary as the original rock-and-roll outlaw and a cross between Mick Jagger and Lee Marvin, recorded one record for Sun: "Lovestruck," backed with "I Want To Make Sweet Love." He later toured with Waylon Jennings as a guitar player, road manager, and procurer. If the band needed women, whiskey, or drugs, Jerry, a volatile spirit with an affinity for firearms, knives, bludgeons, and bank robbery, could usually deliver. If the feds were on his tail, he might even put on a dress.
Very Extremely Dangerous opens with Jerry, 70 years old and fresh out of prison, fighting with his girlfriend in the front seat of a car as they drive through Mississippi. One senses that the car could go careening off the road at any second, and so could the film. Neither of these things happen, although the threat is constant. Over the course of the next 85 minutes, the frail, tattooed McGill battles all of his old demons, including bounty hunters, prescription painkillers, and lung cancer, while he tries to relaunch the music career that never quite happened. — Chris Davis
And one more for the web ...
Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives (Saturday, 11:15 a.m., Studio on the Square)
The documentary Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives paints a picture of how medicine changed in the 20th century and how the counterculture of the 1960s came of age and is still alive and well today.
Gaskin was instrumental in the home-birth movement and modern midwifery in America. Birth Story tells how she began her journey, dealing with an obstetrician who insisted on delivering her baby with forceps though there wasn’t any medical reason to do so. It seemed unnatural to Gaskin though it was common practice.
From there, the film follows Gaskin to Haight-Ashbury in full hippie mode as she and her husband, Stephen, led a group of followers in philosophical meditation and then literally led them out of California and across the country to form The Farm, a commune near Summertown, Tennessee.
The Farm is still there today, and Gaskin is still out on the hustings teaching child delivery the way nature intended it. — Greg Akers
Indie Memphis Film Festival
Thursday, November 1st-Sunday, November 4th
See indiememphis.com for full schedule and ticket info.