story by Chellie Bowman
Indie Memphis Film Festival celebrated its 20 year anniversary this year and was a huge success, bringing in more attendees than ever before. If you weren’t able to attend, you probably noticed the section of Cooper that was shut down for several days to host their spirited block party, or the hoards of folks walking back and forth between the various theaters in Overton Square last week. Importantly, this year was also great for LGBTQ films and filmmakers, who had a palpable presence at the festival. We sat down with Shorts Programmer Brighid Wheeler, a queer woman herself, to talk about LGBT representation in this year’s lineup.
Wheeler has been working for Indie Memphis for eight years, starting as a volunteer, then helping to produce the festival, and finally making her way up to programming the short’s lineup.
“With the way the political climate has been it’s even more important to make sure you have a serious focus on representation–on not just LGBT issues, but clearly as a queer programmer that’s very important to me. It’s important that the lineup represents the diverse community of Memphis, that everyone from the community can see something on screen that represents them” says Wheeler.
Shorts Programmer Brighid Wheeler with Brandon Harris, Features Programmer.
Photo courtesy of Brighid Wheeler.
She details how rather than segregating films or having themed groupings (let’s say films by women or LGBT films) that their approach this year was to have everyone equally represented within the individual blocks. Relatedly, Wheeler stressed the importance of also showcasing LGBT or minority-centered films that don’t just focus on “the strife or pain that they go through” but those stories that help normalize gay lives, that portray their everyday, mundane stories. While otherness is an important experience and lived reality for many minorities, it’s equally important to illustrate the ordinariness of these lives as well.
For example, the narrative feature “Tormenting the Hen” screened at the festival was a compelling story about an engaged couple whose sanity is tested by an intrusive neighbor while on holiday–and the couple happened to be two women. An incredible narrative short “Two Birds” that screened before “Trans*Cend”–a documentary by Shelby Elwood following the transgender community in Memphis–was about two women making eyes at each other in a coffee shop and the subsequent internal dialogue that goes on in their heads. These are all human stories that explore a range of emotions and themes, stories to which everyone can relate. Wheeler sums it up: “We’re honestly all the same at the end of the day and we need more of that represented.”
Midtown Queer with front woman Lisa Michaels playing before the Trans*Cend documentary screening.
Michaels is also featured in the film.
In fact, the winner of the Jury Prize for Narrative Short went to “One Up”, an LGBT story of navigating rejection and self-identity in high school. In addition, filmmaker Aisha Raison, an African-American woman whose short “Girls Like Me: A Self/Love Story screened at the MLK50 Hometowner block, and veteran Morgan Jon Fox, a local LGBT filmmaker who brought us amazing films such as “OMG/HaHaHa” and “This is What Love in Action Looks Like”, were both awarded an IndieGrant, each receiving $13,500 towards completing a new project.
If you weren’t able to attend the festival or screen all the films, check out the info below on the features and shorts mentioned above:
Narrative feature: “Tormenting the Hen”: Director Theodore Collatos, with performer Carolina Monnerat. ” When playwright Claire is invited to set her latest political work at a rural theatre company, her fiance Monica tags along for a much-needed vacation. Upon encountering Mutty, an enigmatic neighbor with a gross lack of social boundaries, Monica’s hope for a quiet vacation, and perhaps her very sanity, are thrown into utter jeopardy.” https://www.facebook.com/tormentingthehen/
Narrative short, “One Up”: Director Eimi Imanishi. “Hadley jumps into an uncomfortable sexual encounter after she’s brutally rejected by her teammate crush Christine.” https://vimeo.com/234439661
Narrative short “Two Birds”: Director Caitlin Stickels. “Ellie and Rose like each other. The only problem is that they have never met, even though they both frequent the same coffee shop. The question is – who will make the first move?” Trailer: https://vimeo.com/193583444
Hometowner documentary “Trans*Cend: A Journey from Gender to Self”: Director Shelby Elwood. “Transgender/Nonbinary residents of Memphis, TN share their struggles against familial, cultural, and legislative oppression as they seek gender authenticity in this documentary feature, narrated by the filmmaker.” https://www.facebook.com/TranscendDocumentary/
You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211124423