Reeling in the Prize

Indie Memphis Nominee Phoebe Driscoll '15

Over the years, Rhodes has developed and added academic programs in response to the needs of its students. Film studies is a perfect example—and to illustrate, we need look no further than one of a recent rash of student filmmakers whose work was selected for the Indie Memphis Film Festival.

    A native of Los Angeles, Phoebe Driscoll ’15 explains that she had “zero ties to the South, let alone Memphis.” But the tight-knit community, small class size, and music scene of the surrounding city pulled her to Rhodes. 

   “I never visited the campus; I just got on a plane after I was accepted, taking solace in the fact that if the South wasn’t for me, I could leave at any time,” she says. “That was five years ago—I never left!”

    As a rising junior, Driscoll applied to the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, intending to write about the origins of Memphis hip-hop. Her film professor suggested that she turn her findings into a 10-minute documentary. Inspired by a “mind-blowing” performance piece by Ryan Haskett, she decided to make her entire documentary on the dance style “jookin,” which originated in Memphis in the 1980s. 

    Her full-length documentary Pharaohs of Memphis was the result. The film premiered at the Indie Memphis Film Festival in 2014 and won the Best Hometowner Feature and Audience Choice awards. 

     “Making the film was an exciting and exhausting process,” she says. “It taught me that the Memphis community is marked by a strong sense of kindness and support—a feeling you’d be hard-pressed to find in the Los Angeles or New York film industries, I imagine. There’s a moment in my documentary where world-renowned dancer and celebrity Lil Buck tells the audience about how Memphis had shaped him during his formative years. I’m still mind-blown that Lil Buck sat with me in a graffiti-strewn alleyway behind a run-down dance studio to chat about jookin—a mere 24 hours before flying to Hollywood for an interview with Katie Couric. It’s a fine example of Memphis hospitality and graciousness, even in the face of stardom.”

—Gaye Swan