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Shaking things up at Indie Memphis


With the enthusiasm of revival-tent evangelists preaching the good word about the power of the movies, a Memphis millionaire and a filmfest veteran from Alabama have joined forces to try to elevate the Indie Memphis Film Festival to a "world-class level" as it enters its second decade.

Erik Jambor of Birmingham has been selected as the first-ever salaried executive director of Indie Memphis. The position is being funded by investment capitalist Bob Compton as part of a $100,000 grant that will help the festival triple its operating budget this year, as Indie Memphis becomes a fully independent entity.

If you've never met Erik Jambor, you should get to know his name and face; Erik has been a major force in Southern indie film since co-founding Birmingham, Alabama's Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in 1999. Sidewalk is the model of an intimate, filmmaker-friendly festival in an unlikely place. It is a favorite destination with filmmakers, audiences, and industry types alike. Jambor moved on to a short-lived experiment at the Bend Film Festival in Bend, Oregon before returning to the South as the director of Indie Memphis.

According to Jambor, "Indie Memphis has been on the scene for a good number of years, but its first decade focused exclusively on films with a connection to the South. Filmmakers loved it – but that, coupled by the fact that it was a completely volunteer run organization, has kept much of has been
happening here under the radar."

Jambor promises that the South and Southern filmmakers will remain a "major focus" of the festival, but as part of his plans to move the festival into a new stage of development, he will use "Memphis' rich cultural history to connect independent filmmakers from other regions of the country too. Memphis is known as the home of the Blues and the birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll, and the city resonates with inspiration and collaboration that is simply unlike anywhere else."

Read more from Jambor in an interview with the Memphis Flyer, or visit the Indie Memphis web site (call for entries now open).

My Coverage of Cannes

picMy coverage of Cannes? There isn't any. I can't afford to go to Festival de Cannes any more than the average indie filmmaker, and it isn't one of the festivals on the travel docket for B-Side, so here I sit in my living room reading the internet coverage. Not that I'm complaining -- these days I get to about as many festivals as I can realistically handle -- but there's always something about knowing there's a great festival going on somewhere else that invokes that twinge of envy. I can only imagine that Cannes is the ultimate in festival-going -- its insistence on fancy dress at evening screenings guarantees a high level of glitz and the temperate weather in France in May (especially as opposed to Utah in January) attracts actors and other industry types like flies. With media, Hollywood types, and indie filmmakers all crammed shoulder to shoulder and clamoring for attention, it's got to be the ultimate show for a film festival buff.

For those of us left behind, now is a good time to review the basic facts about Cannes. Not only is it one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, it's also one of the oldest -- founded in 1939 but not truly launched until after the war in 1946 -- and one of the most dramatic. From its war-torn beginnings to the various tensions between nations, film academicians, filmmakers, and the irrepressible Hollywood machine, Cannes has seen its share of excitement and conflict over what the festival should and should not be. If you're interested in the history there are a few books out there on the subject, including Cannes: Inside the World's Premier Film Festival by Kieron Corless and It's So French!: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture by Vanessa Schwartz.

Today's Cannes is a mixture of business, pop culture, and art. What few filmmakers and even fewer filmgoers seem to realize is that it's possible to "play Cannes" without having been selected by Cannes. Here's how:

The Official Selection of Cannes is limited to about 100 films. This year (2008) there are 22 films in competition, 21 in the "Un Certain Regard" section, 8 in the "Out of Competition" section (including the latest Woody Allen flick and Spielberg's new Indiana Jones movie), 7 "Special Screenings," 17 shorts in the Cinefondation section, and 9 in the Shorts competition -- a total of 84 out of the thousands that must have been submitted. (Sundance received over 4000 submissions in 2008; we can only surmise that Cannes receives at least that number.) Compared to most other major festivals, that's not a lot of movies.

Cannes makes up for its ultra-selectivity in official selections by throwing its doors wide to all comers for the Marché du Film (Film Market) -- so long as they have cash in hand. For a mere $10,000 or so, anyone can set up a booth at the Marché and peddle their films to interested parties, each of whom have only paid about $500 for the privilege of seeing what's for sale. As with other film markets like the American Film Market or ShoWest, the Cannes market is all about business. Though there are screenings of films, they have been paid for by the sellers and no guarantees of quality are made by the festival. If you believe your feature film has the potential to justify that kind of cash outlay, there's no easier way be a part of Cannes and to capitalize on the hubbub surrounding the festival.

SFCFurther muddying the waters of what it means to "play Cannes" is the Short Film Corner, a sub-section of the Marché du Film that showcases short films for a mere 75 Euros (about $120). Registration includes limited access to certain parts of the festival and Marché du Film, plus special networking events. Your film is available for viewing in a variety of different ways, including kiosks, private online screenings, and even mini-screening rooms where you can schedule screenings once you're on site. This is where it starts to become really tempting: for the price of three or four regular submissions to film festivals, you can say that your film was "at Cannes" for as long as your conscience holds out.

So -- even if you don't plan on bending the truth that much, is it worth registering your short with the Short Film Corner? I guess it depends on how much cash you have to blow and what you expect to get out of it. If you're planning to actually show up and take advantage of the festival and market, it seems like a no-brainer. Festival credentials and the ability to introduce yourself as a filmmaker with a film in the Short Film Corner? That feels like a pretty good icebreaker. And who knows? A buyer might find you charming enough to go dial up your film out of the other 1800 flicks in the pile.

If you're not planning on being there, however, participation seems largely academic. There's a competition of sorts (though darned if I can figure out how to become a voter) and you can display a nifty "Short Film Corner at Cannes" graphic on your web site, but there aren't likely to be many tangible benefits. You might be able to weasel your way into some minor festivals on the strength of your "selection" at Cannes, but anyone in a position of importance enough to really help you is likely to know the difference -- and will probably take a dim view of your trying to pull a fast one. Participating in the Short Film Corner certainly can't hurt your film unless you misrepresent the significance of said participation. Chances are it won't do much to help your film either, unless you get your butt over to France and take part.

If the $120 doesn't mean a lot to you, there's something to be said for registering your film with the Short Film Corner just for the sake of being "on the record," much the same as I encourage documentary filmmakers to register with Hot Docs' "Doc Shop" market even if they don't make it into the festival itself: it's good to have your film's name and information in that catalog -- who knows what could come of it? If you're scratching for every dime, on the other hand, use that money to promote your next actual screening at a festival you can actually attend. Better yet, put it into your next film. There's plenty of time to work on your French vocabulary.

Planting the Seeds on the Lake of Dreams at CineVegas

Balloons over Rockefeller Center

Variety's "The Circuit" column revealed the news that renowned animator and multimedia artist Takashi Murakami will show his short animation piece Planting the Seeds at Cinevegas on June 16th. Murakami is the man responsible for hundreds of wacky googly-eyed mushroom creations, including a 2003 installation at Rockefeller Center (pictured above).

What Variety didn't mention is that the piece will be screened on the Wynn's already surrealistic Lake of Dreams, a swirling cascade of water and lights that comes complete with animatronic puppets and an expanse of underwater LEDs. (Apple has a profile of Karin Fong, one of the creators of the Lake, and you can see some tortured cell phone videos of the show's singing frog at YouTube.) It's all set in the middle of the Wynn Casino, where you can see the show from the various game tables, bars, and restaurants that surround it. This is the kind of chocoloate-peanut butter mixture of venue and film that can separate a festival from the pack. CineVegas could lay back and let their location do more of the work to attract attendees, but they're aggressively pushing to add that little something more to the experience.

Cinevegas has a press release about the screening on their site, and you can view the full schedule in Cinevegas' B-Side festival community.

Don't Miss Independent Film Week

Independent Film WeekOne of the best excuses I can think of to visit New York City (though who needs excuses?) is the Independent Film Week (formerly the IFP Market), taking place September 14-19 this year. IFW is part festival, part market, part seminar, and all for filmmakers and industry types looking to get a handle on the ever-changing landscape of the indie film scene.

IFW has a number of curated programs to which you can submit. Some of the deadlines have already passed, and some are coming up fast, but even without a project to submit it's well worth looking into whether IFW might have something to offer you and your career.

Check out the Independent Film Week web site for more.



Clever -- tying a short film contest to the Democratic national convention. Contests & events like these with a solidly defined niche are very popular right now. There is no entry free for Cinemocracy; visit the web site to learn more.

Marfa Film Festival Slideshow

Shorts 2 Q&A, originally uploaded by stomptokyo.

Had a great time in Marfa, TX during the first three days of the inaugural Marfa Film Festival. The town is tiny but there's a lot of potential for the festival to become the sort of boutique sleeper event that industry types adore. Enjoy this slideshow and I'll have more stills and a recap in the coming days.