After nearly a decade in existence, the Memphis International Film Festival gets a facelift this year in the form of a new name. The organization that has run the festival for the past nine years, the Memphis Film Forum, has renamed itself On Location: Memphis and its signature event is now called On Location: Memphis International Film Festival. The festival begins Thursday, March 27th, and runs across four days at various venues, with most screenings held at Malco's Studio on the Square.
Though the name has changed, the mission and format remain similar: to provide a showcase for a wide range of films that otherwise wouldn't find theatrical release in Memphis, such as this year's feature attraction, David Lynch's acclaimed, three-hour opus Inland Empire, which will close the festival. (See review of Inland Empire above.)
The "International Masters" series that has been a fest staple in recent years is gone this year, replaced, in part, by a "Liberty & Justice" program that will screen civil-rights-themed films at the Brooks Museum of Art. In addition, the festival features a strong slate of music-related documentaries and several non-screening events in the form of panels and parties. Among the potential highlights (screenings held at Studio on the Square unless otherwise noted):
Music Docs: The festival opens 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 27th, at the Malco Paradiso, with Delta Rising, a documentary set in Clarksdale, Mississippi, that features artists such as Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Morgan Freeman, and Pinetop Perkins talking about the importance of the Delta sound.
Delta Rising is only the beginning of a deep, varied slate of music-related docs. Chasin' Gus' Ghost (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.) is a look at the history of jug-band music filtered through the jug-band revival of the early '60s. With white revival acts such as the Lovin' Spoonful and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band as a starting point, the film travels to Memphis (and Louisville) to examine the roots of the form via such legendary artists as Gus Cannon and the Memphis Jug Band. (It takes the movie almost an hour to mention Memphis Jug Band leader Will Shade, but when Charlie Musselwhite offers first-person testimony of visiting Shade in Memphis, it's worth it.)
The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice (Friday, 8 p.m.) is a portrait of rockabilly pioneer and former Elvis paramour Wanda Jackson that features testimonials from Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and makes a strong case for Jackson as much more than a footnote in rock history.
Before the Music Dies (Saturday, 5 p.m.) fancies itself something of an Inconvenient Truth for the music industry. I didn't find its musician-centric grousing as persuasive as it's meant to be, but the film is highly watchable with tons of interesting interview segments, including a moment with Memphians Luther and Cody Dickinson and several hilarious segments with the fierce neo-soul songstress Erykah Badu.
Living the Hip Life (Friday, 4:45 p.m.) expands the boundaries of the fest's music slate with an intimate portrait of the modern music scene in Ghana.
Other Docs and Features: All About Us (Sunday, 6 p.m.) is an original narrative feature about two young California filmmakers who travel to Mississippi to convince Morgan Freeman to star in their film. Beyond Belief (Saturday, 10 a.m.) tracks two American 9/11 widows to Afghanistan, where they befriend and help other war widows a world away. Beyond the Call (Saturday, 2:45 p.m.) follows three middle-aged men who bring food and medicine to war zones around the globe. Blood on the Flat Track: Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls (Saturday, 5 p.m.) looks at roller-derby subculture in Seattle. Circus Rosaire (Sunday, 1 p.m.) is a colorful portrait of a multigenerational circus family.
"Liberty & Justice": A collection of nine documentary films on civil rights issues will screen at the Brooks Museum of Art Saturday, March 29th, and Sunday, March 30th. Rosa Remembered (6 p.m., Sunday) is a debut screening of a film that follows the late civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks on a personal tour of the National Civil Rights Museum alongside local judge D'Army Bailey.
Panels and Parties: At 6 p.m. Friday, special-effects expert Brent Heyning, a University of Memphis graduate who has worked on several high-profile Hollywood productions, will conduct a workshop on animation and other film effects. On Saturday, two panels are scheduled — Making It in Hollywood (10 a.m.) and Making It in Tennessee (11:30 a.m.) — to bring industry professionals together to discuss breaking into the film business and doing filmwork in Tennessee. Memphis & Shelby County Film & Television Commissioner Linn Sitler and Nothing But the Truth executive producer James Spies are among the panelists. At 2 p.m. Saturday, local filmmaker Mike McCarthy will discuss making movies on the cheap. All workshops and panels will take place at the French Quarter Suites in Overton Square.
In addition to screenings and panels, the festival will host three parties. An opening-night shindig will take place at the new Ground Zero Blues Club Memphis on Thursday. Ruby Wilson will perform. Tickets are $20. The next night, McCarthy will host a music/video show dubbed Rock-and-Roll Blood Bath at Earnestine and Hazel's. Jack O. & the Tearjerkers will perform. Admission is $7. Finally, on Saturday, the festival will hold a "Big Bubba Bash" at BRIDGES with music from The Mudflap Kings. Admission is $20. Entry to all events is free with a festival pass.
On Location: Memphis International Film Festival
Thursday, March 27th-Sunday, March 30th
Individual screening tickets are $8.50. Full festival passes are $60 in advance and $70 during the festival.