Tennessee Queer, a new film from Memphis native Mark Jones, tells the tale of Jason Potts, a New Yorker who returns to his Tennessee hometown and takes on the task of engineering a pride parade in the small town. The film was inspired by local events.
“I started writing this in late February of 2011,” said Jones. “Different things had occurred. In 2009, our Shelby county government was going to vote on giving some equality to gay/lesbian county workers. We had the Shelby County commissioner, about two weeks before the vote, hold this huge press conference outside, right in front of the county building. He invited six ministers to come, and they, all six, just spoke so angrily and so disrespectful of gay people. It was just amazing and the county commissioner just stood there smiling, listening. It was ugly, it was horrible to watch.” Along with a rash of highly publicized suicides by gay teens, these events were the inspiration for the movie.
Tennessee Queer was filmed almost entirely in Memphis with a local cast and crew. “What’s really cool is the movie takes place in a small town,” said Jones. “So we have a stretch called Broad Avenue here in Memphis, and we used the main street of downtown Binghampton. Right after WWI, the city of Memphis annexed Binghampton and just kept going, so it’s kind of in the middle of the city now, but three or four blocks haven’t changed in a hundred years. It still looks like a downtown main street of a small town.”
The film was shot over nineteen days within a four week window. Shooting began in September 2011 and was complete by late October. “The first film festival we played in was in July of 2012,” said Jones, “and it was at Philadelphia QFest, Philadelphia’s gay and lesbian film festival and actually I met representatives from Breaking Glass Pictures. So I took their card and we kept going to film festivals. We did the film festival circuit for about a year or 15 months, actually played at some universities for their gay and lesbian student groups. We played down at MTSU for their LGBT group last October.”
It took a film showing in LA this spring, coordinated by Jones, for the distribution company Breaking Glass to find its way back into the picture. The owner of the movie theater helped Jones get reacquainted with the distribution company. He “got us all back together and talking about the film. And then I shipped them another copy of it and here we are today!”
“For my theatrical release, I rented out a screen sometimes for a night, sometimes for a week,” said Jones. “And did the same in Atlanta. I did a night in New Orleans, a night in Mobile, Alabama. A night in Dallas. And one of our local movie houses here in Memphis actually played it for two weeks, I didn’t have to rent out the screen. They liked it and they wanted to show a local film, so it played in Memphis for two weeks.”
Reflecting on the film, Jones considers the value of local heroes and their value especially in small towns. “I’m a big believer that one person can make a difference. I know that you have some help, but one person, like our lead character, Jason, ends up putting on a gay pride parade and it’s about his battle to do that. I believe one person can make a difference, sort of like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Gary Cooper in High Noon, sort of that one man against the world kind of thinking.”
“It’s a fun comedy,” he added. “I’ve gotten a lot of good comments, going to festivals, and I think especially in Nashville and people in the surrounding area will like it because it’s a Southern film. It takes place in Tennessee so I hope they’ll like it.”
Visit the website for more information about the film, which is now available on DVD and digitally.
FILM REVIEW: Bringing pride to the hometown crowd