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Festival Review
3rd Atlanta HipHop Film Festival

August 24-26, 2007

by Jay Blodgett

The 3rd Annual Atlanta HipHop Film Festival (AHHFF) was held August 24 - 26th, in the conference center of the Holiday Inn Select, near Turner Field. This was a last minute change in venue and proved to be quite a logistical challenge in managing such an ambitious group of programs. The AHHFF had a full schedule of forums and workshops in addition to three days of screenings, Q&As, and a closing night awards ceremony.

I had planned to see as many screenings as possible while also attending the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, which was running concurrently. However, the opening day AHHFF screenings were delayed by two hours because the hotel was unable to provide a screening room on time. There was in-house hotel media tech support, but they seemed challenged in setting up a simple sound and screen system. (I knew it was going to be a LONG weekend for them, when even I supplied a cable for the projector set-up.)

In the meantime, the media was encouraged to interview attending directors and panel speakers. (Unfortunately, I am not experienced in interviewing, especially on the topic of hiphop culture.) The hotel was unable to provide a room for that too, so interviews were held in a spare space of the restaurant. Tambria Peeples, the press representative from the PR firm handling the festival, was the only voice of any authority present. She ably pulled together registration and equipment for press interviews.

As the confusion continued and the festival's activities were caught in a state of limbo, I couldn't help but feel that I was in an episode of The Apprentice. I don't know where the festival management was, and there was no sign of hotel management providing help. Perhaps they were locked in a room somewhere, trying to figure all this out?

During the projector set-up, the DVD player that was provided was not reading discs, so a volunteer from registration offered up his laptop. That was when I offered my cables to hook it to the projector and sound system. (I was traveling with my laptop and bag, which has the cables for just such an occasion.) It was also disappointing to note that during all this confusion, and what might be considered a disastrous start to a long weekend ahead, the hotel did not even offer water or coffee to the volunteers or the attendees who were milling about, waiting for the room to open and get set up.

With such a rocky start on the first day, which was scheduled to end only a couple of hours after it finally got started, I feared that this event might be a financial flop. I did not notice a great deal of business taking place, as in ticket-buying. It appeared that the majority of attendees were filmmakers and media.

The panel discussions were well attended and quite lively; I peeked my head in one during my wait for the films. It might be a good idea to break this event into two parts next year: one conference of workshops and panels, and one of screenings. If timed far enough apart, the screenings could be a way of illustrating the efforts and products of the earlier conference.

As far as space is concerned, though I am a new arrival to Atlanta and am far from an expert on possible venues, I do know from my previous life in San Francisco that the AMC chain prides itself on community involvement. AMC hosted the S.F. International Film Festival by giving up an entire multiplex of eight screens for two weeks, for 10 consecutive years. I would think that the AMC Magic Johnson complex would be able to 'donate' two screening rooms for three days - one room for panels and/or Q&As and the second for screenings.

The festival's connection with B-Side for ticketing and scheduling is the first and best step that the organization has.

The organizers might also consider an alliance with the National Black Arts Festival, which occurred only a few weeks before this. Such an alliance would open up opportunities in venue, as well as increase audience exposure. But this is all just me, playing "armchair festival director."

Read on for more about the screenings. >>