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The Old Forest Turns 30

 ross directing actors next to carSteve Ross directs Steven Wilkerson and Amy House on Mudd Island. 

The On Location Memphis International Film Festival is celebrating the 30th anniversary of “The Old Forest” with a screening at Malco’s Studio on the Square in Overton Square, Saturday, April 26 at 5 p.m.

The University of Memphis production is an adaptation of the acclaimed short story written by Peter Taylor and set in 1937 Memphis. Originally made and released on 16mm film, this will be the first screening of a new high definition digital transfer, a big improvement over the video copies that have been circulating since the 1990s.

A big premiere was held at U of M in 1984, but it took a lot to convince the outside world that a film made in Memphis by Memphians was worth seeing. After several successful screenings at film festivals in the United States and Europe, the film was taken seriously and received favorable reviews in major national publications, such as Newsweek, Variety, and American Film.  Soon the film had a distributor, and The Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) showed it nationwide several times.

Created years before there was an independent film community in Memphis, the film was a daring production from film professors at then-Memphis State University. Elaborate and ambitious, this period piece featured dozens of speaking roles, numerous classic automobiles and more than three dozen locations, all of which had to be historically correct and artistically evocative of Memphis in the 1930s.

“We just proceeded on youthful enthusiasm, admiration for Peter Taylor’s great story, and faith in the talent and commitment of a great group of students and community members,” said Steve Ross, director.

Ross said he wanted to start the project after coming to the University and reading a short story by Taylor, a novelist and short-story writer who would later be deemed a short story master by The New York Times. He found a collaborator in fellow filmmaker and faculty member, David Appleby, who co-produced the film. Professor Roxie Gee joined the crew as production manager. 

“At the time Theatre and Communication were still one department, and we drew heavily on the creative resources of Theatre colleagues and students. The area heads in both departments – Mike Osborne, John Bakke and Keith Kennedy – got behind the project,” Ross continued. “Our dean, Richard Ranta, helped introduce me to folks who might give us the money we would need to pull this off. The whole enterprise was only possible because Peter Taylor thought we had the right approach to his work and agreed to give us the rights.”

Ross and Appleby asked Larry McConkey, graduate school friend, to be their director of photography. McConkey went on to have a successful career as a steadicam operator, having been responsible for some of the more iconic shots in film history and the go-to person for Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and many other major directors.

“This was really a Memphis enterprise – the cast and crew were all from here.  Larry was the one person we brought in from outside. I’d say we made a pretty good decision,” Ross said about his friend from New York.

Members of the cast and crew, including the three lead actors – Peter White, Jane Wallace, and Beverly Moore, will be returning to Memphis for the screening.

“Some of us have remained in Memphis, but most have spent the last three decades building careers in New York, Los Angeles and other places. This will be a happy, long-overdue reunion. 

Tickets can be purchased at www,onlocationmemphis. For more information, call 901.678.2565.

beverly moore shot from The Old ForestLocal actress Beverly Moore portrayed Lee Ann Deehart in "The Old Forest."

wood and white shot from The Old Forest
Bennett Wood and Peter White in "The Old Forest"
steve ross directs actors at Morningside
Steve Ross directors Peter White and Jane Wallace at Morningside Park, Midtown.

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