Growing up in Memphis as a fan of off beat independent film, I was often envious of the venues of our peer cities. The Belencourt in Nashville, The Plaza Cinema in Atlanta, Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center in New Orleans. These are all non-profits that are dedicated to showing off beat, independent, foreign films many of which never make their way to Memphis. It is a sad fact that in 2012 Memphis lacks a dedicated Art-house cinema.
A little history is in order. A group of film lovers attempted to open a dedicated art-house in the Circuit Playhouse just prior to Malco opening in Midtown. Malco openly opposed the parking lot near the proposed cinema, which would have been necessary for the Circuit to be successful. In the face of Malco’s opposition the idea was dropped.
Every Memphis film lover knows that The Studio On The Square was built “to be a gift to the city of Memphis showcasing independent and foreign films”. The advent of Muvico downtown delivered a nail in the coffin of this art-house strategy. In an effort to be competitive with Muvico, Studio on the Square became a mainstream house that occasionally shows independent cinema and not the other way around. Malco’s “gift to the city” is now a place to watch the latest Jim Carry mainstream film. The sad fact is that Midtown, the area of Memphis that should be able to support a non-profit independent film venue lacks such a venue.
There are those that are attempting to help bring independent film to Memphis.
Brooks infrequently shows very worthy films, Ridgeway Four shows independent fare but Malco has stated that with the new remodel more mainstream fare will start to appear. So we are stuck with a few venues but not a true dedicated space whose sole mission is independent film.
We have locals who might be willing to help build and fund a local dedicated art-house. Craig Brewer, Justin Timberlake and even Fred Smith who has produced several films might be willing to help get a non-profit art-house off the ground. Indie Memphis could even program the venue (many film festival in major cities operate their own cinemas i.e. New York Film Society and the San Francisco Film Society). I would even suggest that perhaps the new Artspace project being built in South Main as housing for artist could house a screening room that could both show local student work and studio produced independent cinema. Indie Memphis could operate it as a non-profit.