The Indie Memphis Film Festival www.indiememphis.org brings a range of independent features, documentaries, and short films to Memphis from all corners of the world. The films included in the festival are inspired by the social and artistic history of Memphis, as a majority Black city in the South. While seeking to redefine prestige, the festival celebrates new, original films and values rediscovery within film history.
Following are a few of the films that I have been able to screen online just before the festival began.
The opening night film:
The Picture Taker (Phil Bertelsen, 80 min)
Meet Ernest Withers, civil rights photographer, and FBI informant. “The Picture Taker” reveals the man and motives behind the iconic images.
“For some who knew him as the man who bravely documented their struggles from the Emmett Till murder trial through the King assassination, it seemed the ultimate betrayal. For others, it was yet another example of a hostile government trying to undermine a community through division and suspicion.”
In the tradition of Chicago photojournalist John H. White and photographer Lee Bey, “every time he snapped, the camera told a story,” said one of Wither’s granddaughters.
This was a great historical documentary, chock full of information and civil rights events, some that may have been forgotten and the expert photography work in which Withers excelled to show the world over the greatness of Memphis and those dedicated to civil rights for Blacks.
From Phil Bertelsen, the director of “Who Killed Malcolm X?” “The Picture Taker” screens on October 19 at the Indie Memphis Film Festival Virtual, which runs through October 24, with films screening in local Memphis theaters and online.
The ‘Vous (Jack Porter Lofton, 82 min)
Celebrating its 70th year, the world-famous Memphis BBQ institution and celebrity attraction The Rendezvous faces unprecedented change as the legendary waiters retire and the “family” business moves into a third generation.
What do Prince, Johnnie Cochran, one of the brothers from Leave it to Beaver and Mr. Haney from Green Acres all have in common? “The Vouz” doc screening at the festival gives a great look at the rib joint, its 50-year waiters, culture and its famous diners.
Me Little Me (Elizabeth Ayiku, 84 min)
After an unexpected promotion, Mya, an ambitious young woman, struggles to compartmentalize work and relationships while also managing her mental health.
Mya is catching a bad break but trying to hold on, even if the job is giving her headaches and her family situation seems to be strained. She is dealing with an eating disorder, which I can’t imagine pivots to other parts of her life, but it does.
Jookin (Howard Bell IV, 75 min)
Charlene and her son are forced to relocate to Memphis with her estranged sister. Tensions quickly escalate between the sisters; while Quincy becomes immersed in the city’s gritty lifestyle.
Take a look at the trailer: Jookin (2022) | Trailer | Osaze ‘Agod’ Niamke | Derrick ‘Deuce’ Keys | Moonrise ‘Kofi’ Apprey – YouTube.
Outta the Muck (Ira McKinley, Bhawin Suchak, 82 min)
Told through stories that transcend space and time, “Outta The Muck” presents a community, and a family, that resists despair with love, remaining fiercely self-determined, while forging its own unique narrative of Black achievement.
The folks in this small country town in Florida compare it to issues raised in Harvest of Shame or Zora Neale Hurton’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Pahokee, Florida, is a tight knit community of Blacks who take pride in eating fried rabbit and alligator. It is noted that many folks have moved to the next larger town, but the current residents see nothing wrong with their easier, laid back, way of life.
Pahokee was incorporated in 1922, and the name “Pahokee” means “grassy waters” in the Creek language. Local residents refer to Pahokee as “The Muck,” which signifies the mineral-rich dark soil in which sugar cane, citrus fruits, and corn are grown by agribusinesses.
The oldest residents at the time of the documentary were Mildred McKinney Williams, 91; Carrie McKinley, who died in 2021 and Ethel Williams, 97. Alvin Dean, and the Dean and McKinley families, along with Bridgett Dean, also appeared to give testimonies about the high school boys’ football team and how the entire community gathers together to celebrate milestones. One such milestone was realized by Bridgett, who completed nursing coursework in early 2022. She proudly spoke of “being 54 and going back to school, beautiful and in shape,”
I enjoyed this documentary, because the participants were so raw and authentic in their proud portrayals of their community.
Take a look at the trailer: Outta The Muck – Trailer on Vimeo.
Take a look at the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN0Ucd7HJ24.
Cxffeeblack to Africa (Andrew Puccio, 44 min)
A teacher turned hip hop artist is on a mission to reclaim a stolen fruit, coffee, from his motherland of Africa.
Take a look at the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q8JXor4zoE.
Facing Down Storms (Daphene R. McFerren and Nathaniel Ball, 90 min)
“Facing Down Storms: Memphis and the Making of Ida B. Wells” explores how the unique cultural and social atmosphere of late 19th century Memphis, Tennessee, indelibly shaped Ida B. Wells as a journalist and activist.
Dos Estaciones (Juan Pablo González, 95 min)
The owner of Dos Estaciones, a once-majestic tequila factory, is forced to do everything she can to save her community’s primary economy and source of pride.
Elephant (Maria Judice, 96 min)
A woman witnesses a murder of a young boy by a police officer and suffers from a prolonged mental breakdown that renders her incapable of leaving her apartment.
The Civil Dead (Clay Tatum, 103 min)
A misanthropic, struggling photographer just wants to watch TV and eat candy while his wife is out of town, but when a desperate old pal resurfaces, his plans are thwarted, with spooky consequences.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].