"Tennessee Queer" is the somewhat provocative title of the new comedy by Memphis filmmaker Mark Jones.
The movie — which screens Tuesday night at the Malco Paradiso — tells the story of Jason Potts (Christian Walker), an out-and-proud but soft-spoken New York librarian who becomes mixed up in politics, religion and family drama after a series of farcical complications cast him as the organizer of the first Gay Pride parade in his small, conservative Volunteer State hometown.
The film arrives at a time when the Memphis City Council is pondering whether to include "sexual orientation" in a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. A similar debate over same-sex marriage has been heard during the U.S. presidential campaign.
But if current events add a certain urgency to the message and content of "Tennessee Queer," the film itself is almost old-fashioned in its approach to comedy and screen sexuality.
Unlike many of Hollywood's recent so-called romantic comedies or the farces aimed at gay film-festival audiences, "Tennessee Queer" contains no nudity, sex scenes or extreme vulgarity. It's closer in sensibility to a naughty 1970s sitcom — think "Three's Company" — than to a Judd Apatow production.
If three's company, what's a couple of dozen? According to the credits, the director of "Tennessee Queer" is one "Earl C. Goshorn." The name, in fact, is a fiction — an acknowledgment that though the movie was conceived and written by Jones, the finished film is the product of a small army of collaborators that included many of Memphis' most active filmmakers and actors.
"The universe has a way of working things out," Jason's boyfriend (Jerre Dye) tells him. The line is echoed later by an ambitious, intolerant politician (a truly hilarious Billie Worley), who remarks: "The Lord has a way of making things right." As expressed in Jones' script, this hopeful philosophy proved prophetic when Jones became ill early in the shooting of "Tennessee Queer" in the fall of 2011.
To postpone or reschedule production might have killed the movie. So Ryan Parker, the film's director of photographer, took over as director for a while. Assistant director Sarah Fleming of Live From Memphis accepted some of Jones' producing responsibilities, as did production manager Shelly Gillette. Award-winning local director Morgan Jon Fox remained on set throughout the 20-day shoot, and other notable area filmmakers who participated behind or in front of the camera included G.B. Shannon, Edward Valibus Phillips and Chris McCoy.
The result was "a labor of love," Jones said. To acknowledge the labor as well as the love, the director's credit on the film is "Earl C. Goshorn": "Goshorn" is Jones' middle name; "Earl" is Parker's; and the middle initial stands for "crew."
"Tennessee Queer" is Jones' most fully realized work. "I thought I need to make a really good movie or just hang it up," said the 45-year-old filmmaker, who financed the movie, which was shot in Memphis. His enthusiasm has been validated by the comedy's film-festival success: So far, "Tennessee Queer" has been accepted into festivals in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Durham and Asheville in North Carolina.
The premiere of the Memphis-made movie is at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, at the Malco Paradiso, 584 S. Mendenhall. Tickets: $10, available in advance at brownpapertickets.com.