Alan Spearman of The Commercial Appeal, the revered local rock band Big Star, Memphis micro-budget filmmaker Kentucker Audley and the late Rod Pitts, a pioneer in the Mid-South African-American filmmaking community, were among the honorees Sunday night at the 15th annual Indie Memphis Film Festival.
Pitts, who died March 16 at the age of 37 after a series of longterm health problems, was honored with the first Indie Memphis Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to his family members and filmmaking colleagues. Pitts had been an active participant in the local film scene and a mentor to younger African-American artists in particular for years.
The Indie Memphis festival began Thursday with the U.S. premiere of "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" and continued through Sunday at various Midtown venues. Attendance at the festival's films, panels, workshops and technology-oriented "Innovation" programs was close to a record 11,000 people, said Indie Memphis board president Iddo Patt.
Created by Brooklyn-based filmmakers Danielle McCarthy, Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori, "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" — a long-awaited documentary about the origins, history and legacy of Big Star, the Memphis pop-rock band that achieved legendary status long after the commercial failure of its 1970s recordings — was named Best Documentary Feature by a jury that included Daniel Lindsay, co-director of this year's made-in-Memphis Oscar-winning documentary, "Undefeated," and Bruce Sinofsky, co-director of the "Paradise Lost" trilogy of films about the West Memphis Three.
The makers of "Big Star" received a $1,000 cash prize donated by Classic American Hardwoods, the company owned by Bill Courtney, whose work as volunteer football coach at Manassas High School was the subject of "Undefeated."
A Special Jury Prize for Documentary Feature was given to "Very Extremely Dangerous," a harrowing portrait of cancer-stricken Sun rockabilly artist-turned-"outlaw searching for redemption" Jerry McGill. The film was created by Ireland's Paul Duane and Memphis' Robert Gordon.
Stewart Copeland's "Mr. Smith's Peach Seeds," about a Tennessee folk artist, was named Best Documentary Short. A special Documentary Short jury prize went to Afarin Eghbal's "Abuelas," a British production shot in Buenos Aires.
The Best Narrative Feature Award went to the partly made-in-Memphis "Red Flag," a comedy about a filmmaker on a road trip through the South. The film was conceived and directed by its star, Alex Karpovsky, a regular on HBO's "Girls."
The Duncan-Williams Scriptwriting Award, which includes a $1,000 cash prize contributed by the festival's presenting sponsor, went to Brandon Harris' "Redlegs," about a group of friends who reunite for a funeral in Cincinnati.
The Narrative Features jury also gave a special award for cinematography to Tim Sutton's "Pavilion," a chronicle of restless youth in New York State and Arizona. The narrative category's Nice Shoes Award — which includes $25,000 in post-prodcution services from New York's Nice Shoes studio — went to Amy Seimetz's Florida-set "mumblenoir" film "Sun Don't Shine," starring Memphis' Kentucker Audley as lover-on-the-lam with a body in his car trunk.
In the Short Film category (non-documentary), Miranda de Pencier's "Throat Song," from Canada, was named Best Narrative Short. The Best Animated/Experimental Film was Marieka Walsh's "The Hunter," from Australia. A special short film jury prize for cinematography went to another Australian film, "Suspended," while Robert Longstreet was given a special Outstanding Performance prize for his work in two shorts, the Omaha-set "Cork's Cattlebaron," and "What Happens When Robert Leaves the Room."
In the Hometowner category, which recognizes work by Memphis-area filmmakers, Audley's "Open Five 2" was named Best Feature. Spearman's "As I Am," inspired by South Memphis student Chris Dean, was named Best Hometowner Documentary Short, while the Hometowner Narrative Short prize went to "Pretty Monsters," by Ryan Parker and G.B. Shannon. The jury also gave a special prize for "Local Significance" to "Antenna," a feature documentary about the famed Memphis punk rock club.
The annual Soul of Southern Film Award went to Martha Stephens' "Pilgrim Song," produced by Memphis-based Paper Moon Films, while the Ron Tibbett Excellence in Filmmaking Award went to Edward Tyndall's experimental documentary "Reconvergence."
The winners of the people's choice Audience Awards — voted on by filmgoers at the festival — included Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, "Quartet" (Narrative Feature); "Antenna" (Documentary Feature); the British cartoon "Morning Stroll" (Narrative Short); "Cardboard Titanics" (Documentary Short); and "As I Am" (Hometowner).