Indie Memphis Film Festival: What's playing? Oscar contenders, 'Hometowner' shorts and more – Commercial Appeal

Miriam Bale says she is not exaggerating when she promises the 2021 edition of the Indie Memphis Film Festival will offer “some of the best films of the year.”
“We really are going to show a collection of the best films, to really get people excited about movies again, instead of just soothing ourselves with whatever is available on TV,” said Bale, who, as the festival’s “artistic director,” curates the event’s slate of feature films and major events.
This “best film” lineup includes highly anticipated likely Oscar contenders alongside new work by internationally acclaimed auteurs from France and Thailand and emerging filmmakers from Nigeria and Ghana. Plus, a revival of the “blaxploitation” classic originally advertised with the immortal tagline “RATED X BY AN ALL WHITE JURY!” 
Or, to translate it into the ballyhoo blurbspeak once favored by promoters at the drive-in where some of the festival films will be screened: 
In fact, five films on the Indie Memphis schedule — “C’mon C’mon,” “Drive My Car,” “Petite Maman,” “Red Rocket” and “Spencer” — are among this year’s top 15 “Best Films of the Fall Festivals,” according to a survey of critics published this week by the online film journal IndieWire.
“They’re not all highfalutin,” Bale said. “We have movies that are maybe not blockbusters but are crowd-pleasers.” 
The latter category may be represented by documentaries in particular. 
Described by one critic as “a Christopher Guest film come to life,” “Alien On Stage” celebrates the well-intentioned efforts of a group of “Alien” enthusiasts in England to adapt Ridley Scott’s science-fiction classic for the stage. Meanwhile, “Listening to Kenny G” is the movie that dares to ask (according to its press kit) “why some people hate Kenny G’s music, and why so many more people love it.”
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And then there’s “Larry Flynt for President,” which chronicles the infamous smut peddler and First Amendment absolutist’s 1983 campaign for the White House, which he undertook in the gold-plated wheelchair that became his conveyance of choice after he was paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet in 1978.
With investment firm Duncan-Williams returning as presenting sponsor, this year’s 24th Indie Memphis Film Festival, which runs Oct. 20-25 (plus, “encore” screenings on Oct. 27 and 28), offers passholders and ticket-buyers a menu of streaming options along with daily film screenings at public venues. This hybrid strategy has enabled the festival to more fully emerge from the COVID-19 caution that transformed the 2020 fest into primarily an online event, with the exception of screenings at the Summer Quartet Drive-In and a few improvised outdoor locations. 
The 2021 venues include the Crosstown Theater, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse and the drive-in. Due to social-distancing protocols, admissions will be reduced by half for most of these spaces, which means sell-outs in some cases are likely. (The closing night Crosstown Theater screening of director Pablo Larrain’s “Spencer,” the Princess Diana drama, already has sold out.)
“It’s especially challenging to find the space that is safe and that feels right,” Bale said. “We’re really happy with what we landed on.”
“We hope we’ve created a safe environment for people to come together and celebrate independent film,” said new Indie Memphis executive director Knox Shelton, who was hired by the film organization’s board in March to replace the departing Ryan Watt, who had led the nonprofit for five years.
Speaking of COVID concerns, this year’s large number of international films — with a special emphasis on movies from Africa — seems appropriate for a festival arriving at a time when vaccinated citizens are hoping to reconnect with the world after months of lockdowns and shutdowns. The festival provides a passport of sorts to other lands, even for those patrons who choose to watch the films at home, streamed on their televisions, tablets and laptops.
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Overall, the Indie Memphis lineup includes close to 170 features and shorts (the shorts selected under the guidance of departing programmer Brighid Wheeler, new programming director for the Atlanta Film Society), along with other events, such as the Black Creators Forum (with Kayla Myers as new fulltime coordinator). Here are some likely highlights.
For passes, tickets, a full schedule and more information, visit


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