Cinematography Award Winner James Laxton (Photo Courtesy of Indie Memphis)
Cinematography Award Winner James Laxton (Photo Courtesy of Indie Memphis)

Indie Memphis Film Festival held its annual awards ceremony on Saturday, November 3rd announcing awards for all competition films.  For the Narrative Competition, the winner was CLARA’S GHOST by Bridey Elliott and the Duncan Williams Script Writing Award went to JINN by Nijla Mu’min; for Sounds (music-centric films), the winner was the feature documentary MR. SOUL! by Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard, as well as the short “Gomenaki” by Someone Who Isn’t Me (directed by Alkis Papastathopoulos); for Hometowner (Memphis-centric films), the feature winner was RUKUS by Brett Hanover, with Hometowner music video “I’m Yours” by Faith Evans Ruch (directed by Melissa Anderson, Sweazy), as well as Departures Hometowner short “Windows” by Jason Allen Lee; the Documentary Competition Feature winner was SHAKEDOWN by Leilah Weinraub, along with an Indie Grant for the short doc “Getting By” by Jordan Danelz.

Special Jury Awards went to Graham L. Carter’s SHOOT THE MOON RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES and HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING by RaMell Ross.

For the Shorts Competition, the winner for Hometowner Narrative Short was “Minority” by Will Robbins and the winner for Hometowner Documentary Short “Bonfire” by Kevin Brooks; the winner of the Documentary Short was “Black 14” by Darius Clark Monroe; and the winner of the Narrative Short was “Magic Bullet” by Amanda Lovejoy Street.

On the festival’s Closing Night, the Audience Awards were announced at Downtown Memphis’ Halloran Centre by Executive Director Ryan Watt. The Narrative Feature winner was NEW MONEY by Jason Kohl; the Hometowner Feature winner was WAITING: THE VAN DUREN STORY by Greg Carey and Wade Jackson; the Sounds Feature winner was MR. SOUL! by Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard; the Doc Feature winner was WRESTLE by Suzannah Herber and Lauren Belfer; and the Departures Feature winner was THE WASHING SOCIETY by Lynne Sachs. The Documentary Short winner was “Life on the Line” by Lea Suzuki; the Music Video winner was “Faithful” by King Kwofi (directed by Benjamin Stark); the After Dark Short winner was “Hair Wolf” by Marima Diallo; the Hometowner Narrative Short winner was “Best Wedding Gift” by Mark Jones; the Narrative Short winner was “Under Mom’s Skirt” by Sarah Heitz De Chabaneix; and the Hometowner Doc Short winner was “You Must Believe” by Lauren Squires Ready.

In addition, The Black Filmmakers Pitch Rally (presented with crowdfunding partner Seed&Spark) took place on Friday, November 2nd, when twelve selected black filmmakers pitched their prospective film projects in hopes of receiving prizes including a $10K Bounty Prize provided by Epicenter Memphis, high-end color package from Apache, and much more, if they were to begin production on their film in Memphis by August 1st, 2018. Local Memphis filmmaker Dave Godbout was named the winner of the first Indie Memphis Film Festival Black Filmmakers Pitch Rally, as well as its $10K Bounty Prize, for his surreal comedy CHARMAINE. The coming-of-age sex comedy by Amanda Willoughby and Jessica Chaney, HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO A MAN, will receive a $1,000 donation to its crowdfunding campaign via Seed&Spark, and BLACK CHERRY by Amanda Layne Miller received an honorable mention.

This year, Oscar-nominated cinematographer James Laxton (MOONLIGHT, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) was honored with Indie Memphis’ inaugural “Indie Memphis Cinematography Award,” presented to him by Miriam Bale, Indie Memphis’ Artistic Director (newly promoted from Senior Programmer). His frequent collaborator Barry Jenkins congratulated him via a heartfelt video message at the ceremony; the two have been friends since they were students at Florida State University, where they became fast friends and kindred spirits. Jenkins said, “In these modern times that we live in, the work of the cinematographer goes unappreciated. I remember [Laxton and I] fusing in this way that we both had this visual idea of what the film was going to be. Sometimes I don’t know what I want, but I want it to be beautiful. And James understands what I want.”

This award kicks off the awards season buzz for Laxton, whose work in Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Indie Memphis’ Centerpiece Presentation) is highly lauded. Laxton also appeared at the “New Ways of Seeing: Cinematography Workshop” alongside MADELINE’S MADELINE and THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST rising star cinematographer Ashley Connor. Laxton said of his award, “To be here in Memphis and accept this is very special. Memphis has clearly been an influence on Barry and me for a long time.”

Actor/rapper Shayna McHayle (aka Junglepussy) was awarded with the “Indie Memphis Actor of the Year” award for her work in Andrew Bujalski’s SUPPORT THE GIRLS, Indie Memphis’ Closing Night selection, a comedy that portrays the pratfalls of women working at a female-run “sports bar with curves.” Bujalski presented McHayle with the award while singing her praises, saying, “From her first take on her first day, I knew we had something special.”

McHayle’s award also puts her into the awards conversation, in a critically-acclaimed performance that garnered praise such as The New York Times describing her as delivering a “delightful, contrapuntal comic performance.” McHayle was overwhelmed with thanks for her win and dedicated her award to the women in her life. She said, “I want to give a special shout out to all the women in my family who have overcome adversity.”

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