After Christopher Reyes' My Memphis premiered last month at Malco's Paradiso, a woman told him she had been planning to move but, after watching the film, had decided to stay in Memphis.
"One of the responses that I get from people who see the film is 'I want to move to Memphis, but I already live here,'" says Reyes. "They get re-energized."
Reyes began working on what would eventually become My Memphis, a collection of interviews with members of the local "creative class," over four years ago. As part of the Memphis Manifesto and the Talent Magnet project, the artist and creator of the Web site Live from Memphis was charged with interviewing seven people about Memphis' highlights.
"We asked them to say something about nightlife, food, or this and that," says Reyes. "I'd meet people and listen to their stories, and then I had to go experience the things they talked about. Instead of doing seven interviews, I did 40 something and I made a Web site with the idea, wouldn't it be great if this kept going?"
The cast includes Craig Brewer, Memphis Tomorrow's Blair Taylor, restaurateur Wally Joe, and Ballet Memphis' Dawn Fay and Garrett Ammon.
"I put the feelers out to different people I knew," says Reyes. "I asked them, 'Do you like Memphis?' If they said no, I just checked them off the list.
"If they liked Memphis, I asked, 'Where are you from?' I wanted to know if they had any other experiences that would give them a good point of reference. I tried to pick people who had moved away and then moved back or were not from here."
In many ways, My Memphis translates as a visual love letter to the city.
"When I started interviewing people, they were telling the same story that I felt. I just wanted to make people aware of the fact that here is something special about Memphis under the surface," says Reyes.
In addition to the interviews, the film shows off the city's favorite places and events: VECA's Greenline Trail, Wild Bill's, Memphis In May, Africa In April, and countless rock shows. The soundtrack, always humming in the background, is all Memphis music. But the people -- and their stories -- are what really makes the film's heart beat.
"I was surprised by who they were," says Reyes. "It really made me start to love the project. There are cool people out there that no one's ever heard of."
Okay, so maybe you've heard of Craig Brewer, but the others are not as well known. Hearing their stories, I thought that these are all people I would like to meet. Part of that is because I have to keep refreshing my friend bank -- I lost another two to New York in the last month -- but also because they seemed worldly and interesting.
"A lot of people connect with the film because Memphis can be very frustrating at times," says Reyes. "You want to help it grow. You want to nurture it into becoming this mecca of creative people, not just artists but entrepreneurs. There always seem to be a lot of obstacles from the past in the way."
Perhaps his own experience with My Memphis is testament enough to that. For three years, no one was interested in the project.
But recently, seeing an opportunity to help Memphis-based companies recruit young talent, the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce got involved.
The chamber hosted the premiere and plans to use the film to shake Memphis' image as a boring, backwater town. In one sleek package, the chamber gets to send 40 virtual spokespeople to human resource departments and college campuses around the country.
It's a good first-date strategy -- having your friends talk you up and showing off your best assests -- but we need to remember that we're in it for the long haul. Once we recruit talented people, we need to figure out a way to keep them here. To me, Memphis is like a musician boyfriend: sensitive, artistic, a little dirty, and totally charming but difficult to build a life with. It makes you fall in love, but it can just as easily break your heart.
"There's an old-school way of doing things here in Memphis," says Reyes. "I don't think [the establishment] should jump out of the way, but they should nurture the up-and-coming people, act as connectors between great ideas and money."
Complete interviews from the film are online at
mymemphis.tv, and Reyes would like to continue the project.
"It renewed my love for Memphis," Reyes says of the experience. "It refreshed it and gave me a good kick in the butt."
Sounds like true love to me.