Ernest Withers documentary to open 2022 Memphis Independent Film Festival

A documentary about the life and art of Ernest C. Withers, the famous Memphis photographer who documented black culture, politics and society for decades, but who after his death turned out to have been an informant from the FBI, will be the opening night feature of this year’s 25th Annual Memphis Independent Film Festival.

Directed by Phil Bertelsen, whose credits include the recent Netflix documentary series ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’, the Withers film, ‘The Picture Taker’, will be screened on the evening of October 19 at the Halloran Centre.

Bertelsen and others associated with the film are expected to attend and will participate in a Q&A after the film. A reception will precede the screening.

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Photographer Ernest Withers had unusual access to his subjects, as this image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lying on a hotel room bed in Memphis shows.

Presented by Duncan-Williams Inc., the Memphis Independent Film Festival runs October 19-24 at the Halloran Center, Crosstown Theatre, Circuit Playhouse, Playhouse on the Square and Malco Studio on the Square. Some films will also be available online.

A full program of films of all types – from feature films by internationally renowned authors to short films by new local artists – will be presented almost every day, as well as panel discussions, parties, live music and more. events.

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The Withers documentary is sure to be of interest to audiences in Memphis, where the photojournalist was a ubiquitous and generally beloved figure whose hundreds of thousands of photos included many of the now iconic images of Elvis, BB King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., protesters in Montgomery, Alabama, and striking sanitation workers carrying “I AM A MAN” signs.

After his death at 85 in 2007, however, journalist Marc Perrusquia of The Commercial Appeal discovered that Withers had been a confidential informant for the FBI, providing agents with footage and reports of civil rights leaders and “radicals”. ” black. Told in a series of stories that have since inspired articles, exhibits and a book, the revelation has inspired a debate about Withers’ motivations and legacy that continues today. As the film’s tagline says, “Ernest Withers. A million images. One big secret.”

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“We are thrilled and honored to be chosen as the Indie Memphis opening night movie,” Bertelsen said in a statement. “‘The Picture Taker’ could not have been made without the many Memphians who sat in front and behind our cameras, their homes and their hearts and lending their stories and creativity to this production.”

A public “preview party” announcing the full Indie Memphis lineup is scheduled for September 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Black Lodge, 405 N. Cleveland. Admission is free but participants are requested to confirm their attendance in advance. (The event will also be presented live via Zoom.)

Festival passes and “virtual passes,” ranging in cost from $250 to $25, are now available. Individual tickets for the individual films go on sale September 20. For passes, to RSVP and for more information, visit

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