In the SXSW world premiere documentary Your Friend, Memphis, main character Memphis DiAngelis observes at one point, “If life was easy, it would not be worth living.”
Life certainly hasn’t been easy for DiAngelis. He was born with cerebral palsy to parents without much money. His mother, suffering from bipolar disorder, was unable to take care of her son at times when he was young. His father, an unorthodox man, lives in rural Texas in a self-built home without running water. The many obstacles Memphis has faced have not kept him from dreaming big, however, and he doggedly pursues his desire to make it in the film industry.
“What makes Memphis a really special, exciting person is he has this exuberant energy and he just goes for it in every moment,” director David P. Zucker observed as he stopped by Deadline’s SXSW Studio to discuss his film. “He comes up with a goal for himself and whether or not it is to his detriment, he sees that goal to the end and he pursues things with real intensity. And there’s an impulsivity to it. So he goes and just takes off. And it makes him an exciting character.”
Zucker met his subject several years ago on a movie set.
“Memphis and I had both been hired to work on this under-budgeted Christmas film outside Austin in 2015,” Zucker recalled. “We were working overnights and everyone was miserable, except for Memphis, who was going around telling people about wanting to work in film and just getting to know people… And a few days into this month-long shoot, he gets fired kind of in front of everybody. Super uncomfortable experience for me. And so I ended up reaching out to him, and I learned that he’d been vlogging about his life for like a decade at that point. And so we decided to embark on this journey together.”
There are heart-wrenching scenes in the film as Memphis falls for a young woman named Seneca, who loves DiAngelis but only as a friend. He goes to Los Angeles to make it on his own, but encounters more obstacles there. His parents worry that prejudice will keep others from accepting their son and prevent him from achieving what he wants to achieve. But Memphis is not a quitter.
“He just views experiences as adventures and as opportunities to learn,” Zucker noted. “He believes in learning things the hard way, and that’s led to super-fulfilling experiences for him and to failures. But he uniquely is open to that taking place on film. You really watch him in the film follow these kind of topsy turvy roads to wherever they’ll take him.”
Zucker says it was essential to him not to play up sentimentality. Your Friend, Memphis above all is a character study.
“There’s a long history of disability-centric documentaries, and many of them are great in their own right, but will often sort of take a road of playing more inspirational, focusing more on pity,” Zucker said. “I, from the beginning, wanted to tell as complex a story as I could.”
Watch the full conversation in the video above.
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