We’re lucky to have multiple cool film festivals in Memphis, and while they’re distinctly different, it can sometimes be confusing to keep up with which is which. This coming weekend belongs to Memphis Film Prize, a competition that has but one stipulation for its entrants — the film must be shot in Shelby County.
The contest has been narrowed down from almost 50 entries to the top ten short films which will screen in a two-hour block several times throughout the weekend. Go watch and have fun pointing out familiar people and locales and help determine the fate of the filmmakers. There’s a $10,000 grand prize on the line that will be decided by audience and jury votes.
Beyond the screenings, there are a number of festival events planned including Prize Karaoke at The Cove, Live Filmmaker Interviews, and a Prize Wrap Party at Beauty Shop & Bar DKDC.
Festival passes are $30, or you can go VIP ($150) to have priority seating and VIP Lounge access for free food and drink throughout the festival weekend.
Buy tickets here.
View the full festival schedule here.
The story of how Memphis Film Prize came to be starts with a Louisiana–Memphis connection. Two filmmakers, Gregory Kallenberg and David Merrill, who had both founded projects to boost filmmaking in their respective cities, were introduced to each other through a mutual friend.
Kallenberg started Louisiana Film Prize in 2012 to incentivize and increase filmmaking in the Shreveport area. David Merrill, a native Memphian, got his start in the film industry in ’99 working for an independent film producer, and then an executive at Universal/NBC before returning home and working on independent films and commercials.
At the encouragement of a childhood friend of David’s who knew Kallenberg, the two talked shop over dinner and stayed in touch with Kallenberg eventually inviting Merrill to Shreveport to experience Louisiana Film Prize for himself. Merrill says he was so impressed that he came home and started telling Memphis filmmakers to enter the Louisiana contest. In the middle of his announcement at a Shelby County Film Commission board meeting, a voice from the crowd chimed in with, “How come there’s not a Memphis Film Prize?”
Merrill took the idea back to Kallenberg and, as legend has it, they decided to bring Film Prize to Memphis over a Stoner Pie at The Cove.
Memphis Film Prize is now in its third year. The hope is that the cash infusion of film crews having to shoot here and the job creation for local film workers lead to further economic development and workforce development for Shelby County. Plus, everyone involved gets exposure to the industry insiders who serve as the celebrity jury.
“We’ve had people come in from Atlanta, Nashville, Little Rock, Shreveport,” says Merrill. “We even had some people who came in from Dallas to work on films. So it’s not just a thing where it’s an opportunity for local talent. It’s an opportunity for local talent and for people outside of Memphis to come and shoot here and get exposed to local talent, and these people working together, it creates like a flowing kind of ecosystem for the film community.”
Merrill says that one of the ways Film Prize stands out from other festivals is that it offers a cash prize to the winner as opposed to in-kind services or credit toward equipment. “Whether they’re using that $10,000 as seed funds to make another feature film or equipment or whatever it is, the idea is that we’re incentivizing filmmakers to first, make what they can from where they are and what they have. The process is just as important as the prize. To me, being one of the people that’s helping facilitate it, the prize is really seeing people work together and make these films and do something.”
Though there’s one film crew that walks away with the prize money, Merrill contends that the real prize is the 40+ projects that got made. “That’s really the winning thing, that’s the secret sauce because that’s building the community and that’s what builds the independent film industry and film base here. Is the point the one winner? Yes, but in a greater sense it’s all of these films and the activity around it. The process is actually more important than the finale. “
Over the years, the Louisiana version has blossomed into a multi-focus festival in Shreveport adding competitions in cooking and music on top of the film contest. Merrill says he’d love to see the Memphis festival gain the traction to expand similarly, perhaps even throwing a Startup Prize into the mix as a nod to our city’s strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“I believe we have a wonderful, beautiful diverse city, but I don’t turn a blind eye. We have challenges and problems, but I think the way to handle that is to step up and try and do what you can do. When Gregory started talking to me about doing Memphis Film Prize, I saw this great opportunity for my city. Generally, people love to complain but the real test is when you roll up your sleeves. I’d say that Memphis Film Prize is an opportunity for me to frankly, not complain, but hopefully add something to the life of the city and give an opportunity to young filmmakers. I know that this, in the grand scheme of things is probably just a tiny needle tick, but it is an upwards needle tick. If we can foster the creative economy in Memphis, I feel like we can provide a greater economic opportunity to the younger people who have talent and skills and give them a reason to stay, and perhaps we also give talented, smart people a reason to come here and do business here or to relocate.”