Willy Bearden is a prolific filmmaker and author whose projects over the years have tackled local subjects as diverse as Memphis' garage band scene, Elmwood Cemetery and the importance of King Cotton.
His latest project sprang from a different font of inspiration. Bearden, who is from the Delta town of Rolling Fork, Miss., reached a point in his career where he realized that a history-minded filmmaker and storyteller is only as good as the written and visual record someone else has left behind.
Thus was born the idea for Bearden's latest undertaking, which he's calling the "Memphis Legacy Project."
At its essence, the massive project involves Bearden chronicling and documenting slices of life in Memphis, then turning over the resulting images and films to be housed in a local library collection.
As the first step in that effort, Bearden is producing a one-hour documentary about the 150-year-old Memphis neighborhood known as Victorian Village.
Other films and images will come later, adding to the civic tapestry.
"I just started thinking, 'Well, what is my life's work? What do I want to do here?'" Bearden said. "I'm very serious about giving back, because everything I've done has kind of hinged on the fact that somebody took a photograph of Front Street or Overton Park or Elmwood Cemetery or the Cotton Exchange Building sometime in the past.
"Somebody did that, and it somehow got into a public archive, whether it's in the Memphis room at the public library or in the special collections at the University of Memphis. I'm certainly using a lot of these things. So I started thinking, 'Why not do a photographic archive of Memphis? Like, here's a snapshot. Here's what Memphis looked like in 2007.'"
A starting point
Part of Bearden's notoriety in local filmmaking, art and historic advocacy stems from his iconic images that show the way Memphis used to be. His films appear often on local public television and trace the lineage of the formerly rowdy river town from its frontier beginnings to more modern times.
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