Sidewalk Film Festival returns to Birmingham this weekend, Friday through Sunday, August 24-26, and it’s more than a great opportunity to see independent films, especially in a town that lacks a single movie screen dedicated to indie product.
Sidewalk is also a chance to enjoy the Magic City’s increasingly vibrant downtown area, where Sidewalk has been held since its beginnings in 1999.
“I think that what makes Sidewalk interesting for both filmmakers and the festivalgoer is that we are a walking festival, hence the name,” says festival executive director Chloe Collins. “I think the vision from the start was to let people explore downtown and be able to go from place to place to see the films, instead of being locked down to a multiplex.”
And Sidewalk gives movie lovers a chance to see films the way they were in intended to be seen, in the communal darkness of a theatre, despite the proliferation of such viewing options as DVDs, cable TV and video on demand.
“The impact the films have is significant, because it’s different to watch a film with an audience than it is to get it later on Netflix and watch it on your computer,” Collins says, adding, “It’s not the same experience. The interaction component is missing, and the crowd and the sort of energy and excitement is different.”
The Sidewalk experience will be further enhanced this year by the addition of a new venue, the recently opened Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre at the Alabama School of the Fine Arts.
Back to Sidewalk in 2012 will be Sidewalk Central, an outdoor vending and entertainment area located on 18th Street, between Third and Fifth avenues north. Live musical acts at Sidewalk Central will include Jesse Payne, The Grenadines and Through the Sparks.
The following are quick previews – by Weld contributors Sam George, Gaije Kushner and Carey Norris – of some of the films to be shown at Sidewalk.
The Nocturnal Third — Hill Arts Center, 1870 Third Ave. North. Sat., Aug. 25, 10:30 a.m.
Stafford Stoneworks has a big project on a rush job. Debt-ridden employee Eli Gottfried (Kevin Maggard) agrees to work the night shift to help pay his bills, despite already being sleep deprived, and plagued by a recurring nightmare when he does sleep. When Eli arrives for his supposedly solitary night shift, he finds a shifty co-worker. Later in the evening, a guy named Jeffrey (Luke Weaver) arrives, saying he ran out of gas, but asking a lot of questions and acting vaguely sinister. The film isn’t particularly interesting to begin with, but writer/director Benjamin Stark, in his feature debut, does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and mystery very gradually. CN
Red Flag — Carver Theatre, 1631 Fourth Ave. North. Sat., Aug. 25, 5:10 p.m.
In this black comedy, writer/director Alex Karpovky, an actor probably best known for his role on the HBO series Girls, plays “Alex Karpovsky,” an independent filmmaker who has just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and goes on the road to show a film he directed at a bunch of art-house theaters and college campuses. Karpovky’s character threatens at times to cross the line from uncomfortably funny to just uncomfortable, but the film manages to plumb his humiliation, equivocation and self-loathing for knowing laughs as it asks whether people can learn from their mistakes. CN
Free Samples — Alabama School of Fine Arts, 1800 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. Sat., Aug. 25, 6:25 p.m.
Jillian (Jess Weixler) is a recent law-school dropout who is adrift in Los Angeles, dabbling in the arts and drinking too much. One hungover morning, she agrees to fill in for her best friend at an ice-cream truck. Jillian is in no mood to be nice to the customers, but her experiences help her decide to stop wandering. Directed by Jay Gammill, Free Samples is a funny film that features a good supporting cast, including Jesse Eisenberg. CN
After — RMTC Cabaret Theatre, 301 19th St. North. Sat., Aug. 25, 7:25 p.m.
Freddie and Ana meet on a bus back to their hometown. The bus crashes. When they awaken, they discover they are the only two people left in town. It doesn’t look like anyone fled; they just vanished. This is the debut film from writer/director Ryan Smith, son of Christian singer Michael W. Smith. He brings a nice sense of mood to the film, which feels very spooky and desolate. CN
Wolf — RMTC Cabaret Theatre. Sat., Aug. 25, 9:30 p.m.
After teenager Carl Stevens attempts suicide, his parents discover that he was involved in an affair with his pastor. Carl’s parents struggle to come to terms with the abuse their son has suffered. Debut writer/director Ya’ke Smith is a little too simplistic with his symbolism, but the movie tells a compelling story with a terrific cast. CN
Fat Kid Rules the World—Alabama Theatre, 1817 Third Ave. North. Sun., Aug. 26, 6:15 p.m.
Based on the young adult novel by KL Going, Fat Kid Rules the World – the Sidewalk closing night film – is a strange dichotomy. On one hand, it celebrates punk-rock as a liberating force and bastion of self-expression, able to give teens a way to cast off the shackles of parental expectations, and a place to form their burgeoning self-identity. On the other hand, it’s a sweet, small film about a broken family that learns how to accept each other in the wake of personal loss. The film, directed by Matthew Lillard, manages to juggle these themes smoothly. SG
Addicted to Fame — The Venue, 1612 Third Ave. North. Sun., Aug. 26, 7:40 p.m.,
In 2007, veteran B-movie filmmaker David Giancola wanted to make a movie within the sci-fi genre, but with a twist, something that would simultaneously honor and parody the conventions and habits of the genre. Addicted to Fame documents the making of that movie, Illegal Aliens, and its winding path to a DVD release. Giancola had what he thought was the brilliant idea of casting Anna Nicole Smith in a leading role. His assumed that, however her performance turned out, the publicity her presence would generate would more than make up for it. He might have been right about that, but first Smith’s son Daniel, then Smith herself, died shortly after production wrapped. GK
Other Narrative Features Worth a Look
Compliance: The latest from Sidewalk alum Craig Zobel (The Great World of Sound) is based on the true story of a man claiming to be a cop who calls a fast-food restaurant and convinces the employees to detain and victimize one of their co-workers.
The Miami Connection: This oddity, rescued from the depths of the 1980s straight-to-video market, concerns a rock band that also excels in kicking butt.
V/H/S: This horror anthology film about thieves searching for a rare videotape includes contributions from Sidewalk vets Joe Swanberg (Nights and Weekends), Adam Wingard (Pop Skull) and Ti West (House of the Devil).
Richard’s Wedding: There isn’t a lot of plot in this comedy about a wedding from writer/director Onur Tukel, but Tukel and his cast deliver a funny film about how friendships really revolve around how much you can forgive from the people you love.
American Man – Alabama Theatre. Sat., Aug. 25, 1:40 p.m.
For our football-consumed populace, American Man may be a hard pill to swallow. This heartbreaking / heartwarming documentary follows former football star Kevin Turner as he is overcome by ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease), a fatal brain condition that is thought to be connected to the kind of brutal, concussion-inducing play that Turner endured during his turns with The University of Alabama, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Directed by Jon Frankel, American Man chronicles the deterioration of Turner’s condition and his quest to create a foundation to raise awareness about ALS and the seriousness of brain trauma for athletes. Though watching a former athlete as he struggles to accomplish basic tasks can be disconcerting to watch, Turner’s drive to make his struggle mean something is inspiring. SG
Jeff – Alabama School of Fine Arts. Sat., Aug. 25, 2:15 p.m.
Jeff focuses on interviews with one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors, the police detective who elicited his confession to 17 murders and the coroner who spearheaded the effort to identify his victims. This footage is juxtaposed with dramatizations of short, not particularly interesting, moments from Dahmer’s life. While watching this film, I found myself wondering why it existed. The three interviewees are interesting enough. But there’s no new information here, no revelations, no speculation whatsoever as to Dahmer’s motivations, or how a person becomes capable of such monstrosities. GK
Ethel — Hill Fine Arts Center. Sat., Aug. 25, 3:10 p.m.
Rory Kennedy has spent the 21st century making documentaries. In her newest film, Ethel, she turns her cameras on herself, her 10 brothers and sisters, and her parents, Ethel and Bobby Kennedy. While Kennedy’s mother, Ethel, is ostensibly the film’s focal point, her father, Bobby, gets his fair share of screen time. For me, the tragedy of his death has always overshadowed his short life. So this very personal portrayal brought him to life for me in a way nothing else has done. It makes clear that his commitments to public service and social justice weren’t just politically expedient, but were the deeply felt result of a intense engagement with his world. GK
An Affair of the Heart — The Venue. Sat., Aug. 25, 5:15 p.m
The documentary, An Affair of the Heart, divides its focus between 1980s pop star Rick Springfield and some of his most ardent fans. Unlike some similar films, it doesn’t treat the fans as freaks. Instead, it gives them space and time to tell their stories, to explain what it is about Springfield and his music that keeps them coming back for more, after all this time. Even if you’ve never given him, or his music, a second thought, An Affair of the Heart offers an interesting portrait of the fan community and the performer who inspires it. GK
Eating Alabama— Alabama Theatre. Sat., Aug. 25, 6:15 p.m.
There have been a number of eye-opening documentaries about the abysmal state of our food supply system over the last few years, but Eating Alabama, a new effort from University of Alabama professor Andrew Beck Grace, takes a more personal view of the problem. By making the core of the film about one pair of families’ quest to eat only food produced in Alabama for a year, Grace, who teaches a class on documentary filmmaking, makes personal an issue that can often feel distant in the urban environment of Birmingham. Eating Alabama also serves as a celebration of the people who have made a difference in the sustainable food movement, and as a kind of eulogy for the dwindling number of small farmers in the state. Eating Alabama is a Sidewalk Spotlight Film. SG
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — Alabama School of Fine Arts. Sun., Aug. 26, 12:40 p.m.
In the 1980s, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was the first and only organization to feature women’s professional wrestling exclusively. In late 1985, it became a hit TV show. The show featured outrageous characters (Matilda the Hun, Mountain Fuji, Big Bad Mama) and comedic sketches. Director Brett Whitcomb’s documentary takes us through the glory days of GLOW, with plenty of archival footage, and follows the ladies to the present day. The film’s story is outrageous, but the movie tells its story with tenderness. CN
Bay of All Saints — Carver Theatre. Sun., Aug. 26, 12:45 p.m.
Director Annie Eastman’s affecting documentary takes us to the waterfront slums of Bahia, Brazil, where for decades there has been a community of people living in palafitas, shacks built out of scavenged wood that sit on stilts above the water. Eastman’s film gives us touching personal stories as well as the wide view of the society that gave rise to the palafitas and fails to help the people who live in them. CN
Other Films We’re Looking Forward To:
Five Star Existence: Director Sonja Linden’s documentary explores the ways technology has changed modern society for better and worse.
Tchoupitoulas: This documentary follows three young brothers over the course of one night as they get stranded in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Andrew Bird: Fever Year: In 2009, acclaimed musician Andrew Bird went on a yearlong tour that ended up leaving him emotionally and physically drained. This insightful documentary follows Bird on the tour and to his family farm, where he records. CN
For all the details on films, workshops, script readings, panel discussions and other events at the Sidewalk Film Festival, including tickets, times and venues, go to www.sidewalkfest.com.
Jesse Chambers and Matthew Mazer also contributed to our Sidewalk coverage report. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.