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Johnny Cash, the National Debt and Bigfoot Star at Fest

October 10, 2008

By John Beifuss

Johnny Cash sings “What Is Truth?” in the documentary “Johnny Cash’s America,” and that question could be the theme for this year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival, which runs today through Thursday at Malco’s Studio on the Square.

Many of the 130-plus movies that will screen during the festival deal with mysteries, disputed testimonies, personal re-inventions and questions that audiences will have to answer for themselves.

The questions range from the profound to the comic. Who killed three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964? Did the amateur Ohio cryptozoologists in the documentary “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie” really snap photos of Sasquatch? Is the Neil Peart- worshipping “air drummer” in the “Napoleon Dynamite”-esque comedy “Adventures of Power” a legitimate artist?

Here’s a brief look at some of the festival’s highlights . For a full schedule, visit indiememphis.com; and look for reviews and updates at gomemphis.com and thebloodshoteye.com.

In partnership with the Common Ground action group, Indie Memphis is hosting four superb documentaries under the title “Reel Conversations About Race.” The films include “‘Bama Girl” (2 p.m. Saturday), about a woman’s quest to be the University of Alabama’s first black homecoming queen; “Pip & Zastrow: An American Friendship” (7 p.m. Saturday), about two men who crossed racial boundaries in the 1940s to become lifelong friends; “Neshoba” (3:15 p.m. Sunday), about the 40-years-late trial of 80-year-old “Preacher” Killen in connection with the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman; and “The Order of Myths” (8:30 p.m. Sunday), about America’s oldest Mardi Gras, a highly segregated celebration in Mobile, Ala.

Uncharacteristically, “Hometowner” contributions from Memphis and Shelby County filmmakers were few this year. Features by Memphians include Morgan Jon Fox’s latest melancholy/celebratory essay/drama “omg/HaHaHa” (noon, Saturday and 7 p.m. Tuesday); Brian Pera’s excellent “The Way I See Things” (12:45 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Monday), about an emotionally distraught young man on a cross-country road trip that initially proves less than healing; Joann Self Selvidge’s “The Arts Interviews: A Compilation” (noon, Saturday), which features in-depth conversations with such important local visual artists as Larry Edwards, Dolph Smith and the late Ernest Withers; and Brett Hanover’s amazing, unclassifiable documentary “Bunnyland” (5 p.m. Saturday), a character study of a self-proclaimed American Indian who collects dubious relics from “ancient civilizations” and is a suspect in the slaughter of 73 rabbits on a miniature golf course in the tourist trap of Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (The “Art Interview” screening will be preceded by the short doc “Sounds of a Miracle,” about Memphis sacred and classical music composer Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.)

The “Global Lens” international series returns with 10 feature films from such countries as Argentina, Croatia, South Africa and the Philippines. In fact, Indie Memphis begins today with a “Global Lens” double feature: Iran’s “The Fish Fall in Love” (2 p.m.) and Lebanon’s “The Kite” (4:30 p.m.).

The timing couldn’t be better (or worse) for Patrick Creadon’s prescient documentary “I.O.U.S.A.” (6:45 p.m. Monday), which examines the consequences of the national debt in the context of skyrocketing military spending, increasing foreclosures and economic burdens and malfunctions.

Memphis author/filmmaker Robert Gordon and Los Angeles’ Morgan Neville (whose previous projects include “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story”) re-team for “Johnny Cash’s America” (7 p.m. Wednesday), a documentary that ties together the music legend’s politics, faith and patriotism and includes interviews with Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn and, yes, Snoop Dogg. (A full story about the movie will appear Tuesday in The Commercial Appeal.)

Six free public “Discussions” take place Saturday and Sunday, including conversations with director Craig Brewer and actor/ director Giancarlo Esposito; a look at the growing link between movies and the Internet with MTV New Media head David Gale; and a seminar about music and movies, led by veteran music supervisor Joe Mulherin .

Eight short films by local and regional young people will screen during the “Southern Teen Filmmaking Showcase” at 5:15 p.m. Saturday. Among the films are music videos produced by students in conjunction with Opera Memphis and ArtsMemphis.

Organized by LiveFromMemphis.com, the “Music Video Showcase” (7 p.m. Thursday) is typically the festival’s rockin’est and most raucous screening. This year’s 19-video lineup features such artists as Pezz, the New Intruders, Al Kapone and Ross Johnson.

Of the dozen or so festival movies I’ve watched in advance, my favorite (in addition to “Bunnyland”) could be Greg Kohs’ sad/ inspiring documentary “Song Sung Blue” (7:30 p.m. Saturday), about a Milwaukee husband-and-wife Neil Diamond tribute act called Lightning & Thunder. One expects easy laughs from such a topic, and those laughs come, but real-life events that could never have been anticipated by the subjects or the filmmakers make this an extremely moving and almost classic American tragedy – or is it a story of triumph? That’s another question audiences will have to answer for themselves.

-John Beifuss: 529-2394

Originally published by John Beifuss beifuss@commercialappeal.com .

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