By Vince Rogers and Pamela Cole
The 31st Atlanta Film Festival, produced by IMAGE Film and
Video Center, took place over ten days from April 19-28 at the Landmark
Midtown Art Cinema. More than 13,000 film fans attended the screenings,
panels, and parties at this new date and venue. This year, the festival
moved from its traditional June date and held the majority of festivities
in the Landmark Midtown location -- which provided a marked improvement
in festival atmosphere. AFF finally felt like a real film festival
instead of a "progressive supper" of offerings spread
across this parking-challenged metropolis.
National and international filmmakers and industry professionals
came together to interact with Atlanta's film community. Audiences
enjoyed a diverse line-up of over 150 feature length, short, documentary,
and animated films. Many of the films were made in Georgia, such
as the Audience Award-wining documentary Darius Goes West
and a rare local screening of Hadjii's Somebodies
(soon to be a BET sitcom!). Other films, like the Jury Prize winner
for Best Narrative Short, Family Reunion, were made
as far away as Iceland.
The opening and closing night extravaganzas represented two of
the festivals most important missions: showcasing high quality films
of local interest and exposing local film fans to great independent
films with universal appeal. The opening night film, Last
Days of Left Eye (by Lauren Lazin, the Oscar-nominated director
of Tupac Ressurection) chronicles the life journey
of the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of the Atlanta-based
R&B "supergroup" TLC. The closing night extravaganza,
Faye Grim, was directed by indie film community mainstay
Hal Hartley and stars actress Parker Posey, who has often been referred
to as the "The Queen of the Indies" for her outstanding
performances in independent films.
Midtown Art Cinema is conveniently located at Monroe Drive and 8th
Street, and served as the primary venue for all of the festivities.
The facility has multiple screens, which made it possible to run
more than one film at the same time. The diverse crowds that gathered
before and after each screening created a kinetic flow of energy
in the lobby and the courtyard outside.
The festival volunteers were knowledgeable, professional, and well-organized,
except for one noteworthy incident at the Campus Moviefest finale.
The problems that were encountered by the IMAGE volunteers in handling
the CMF crowd might have been solved by holding the event at the
Rialto Theatre instead.
IMAGE volunteers served festival goers well and the Midtown Art
Cinema had great access to nearby restaurants and bars. (Like the
way cool filmmaker's lounge upstairs in the Independent, open to
festival pass holders and filmmakers -- a nice way to hobnob with
filmmakers.) More than one festival patron came for a single screening
and ended up staying the whole day. Perfect Georgia weather also
helped, as festival goers congregated in the courtyard outside the
New Leadership, Dates, and Venues
The user friendly, highly professional nature of this year's festival
seems to be emblematic of other changes that have taken place at
IMAGE under the leadership of Gabe Wardell, the organization's new
Executive Director. Wardell decided to move this year's festival
from June to April. He believed that this would allow more residents
who travel during the summer to participate and also take advantage
of Atlanta's beautiful, springtime weather. It seems like this decision
really paid off.
Wardell brought in an old professional colleague and friend, Dan
Krovich, as the festival's new director. The new team at the Atlanta
Film Festival and IMAGE are in sync, and the festival is sailing
on a steadier and more focused course than in years past.
Festivals within Festivals
One of the more innovative aspects of the festival was the inclusion
of the Rapid i Movement and Campus Moviefest grand
finale events. These short film festivals enabled teams to create
innovative short films under challenging circumstances. IMAGE produced
the Rapid i Movement festival, which allowed 40 teams of filmmakers
to produce a short film in 50 hours. The Campus Moviefest is a national
student filmmaking competition that enables students to make a short
film using state of the art equipment free of charge.
The Campus Moviefest Grand Finale had an authentic red carpet film
premier style and allowed student films to be screened at a major
film festival (although, as already stated, the huge turnout temporarily
overwhelmed festival volunteers--note for next year--need bigger
venue for CMF).
Including these two "festivals within festivals" was
an added bonus. The special attention given to local and student
filmmakers was a great idea and a lot of fun!
Audiences were treated to ten days of the best examples of "new"
independent cinema. One of the festival's many highlights was the
retrospective of works by legendary filmmaker Charles Burnett (To
Sleep With Anger, Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding).
Alongside Spike Lee, Burnett is regarded as the most influential
filmmaker of the new school of post "blaxploitation" era
filmmakers. Burnett's films are not as widely known, or commercially
successful as Lee's, but he has managed to make well done, thought
provoking independent films for more than 30 years.
Audiences got the opportunity to see a collection of Burnett's
short films, the feature length My Brother's Wedding
(1983) and his first feature film, Killer of Sheep (1977).
Killer of Sheep is so highly regarded that it was
included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990
as a National Treasure.
of Sheep is an intimate portrait of the life of main character
Stan who works in a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles. The film was
shot with mostly non-professional actors from Burnett's Watts neighborhood.
The film was made with a nearly non-existent budget under almost
impossible technical limitations, but the result is an ambitious
story that is visually engaging and a masterful example of independent
filmmaking. The print has been restored, transferred to 35mm and
the soundtrack has been remastered. The film was made 30 years ago,
but has never been widely screened in theatres or available on video.
Before this year, Killer of Sheep was a film that
people had discussed in film school, but few had ever actually seen
it. This special 30th anniversary screening at the Atlanta Film
Festival was a truly rare experience and a special treat.
This year's World View selections presented a diverse selection
of International films from as close by as our neighbor to the north
Canada to as far away as exotic Thailand. Foreign cinema has an
undeserved reputation of producing only cerebral, emotional psychological
dramas from France or Italy. This year's World View selections dismiss
those assumptions. The selection of films was very diverse and eclectic.
Ghost of Cite' Soleil is an urban gang story from
Haiti that included an interracial love story and political intrigue.
The filmmaker is from Denmark. The South Korean selection, The
King and the Clown, has been called "the Korean Brokeback
Mountain." There was also the horror-comedy odyssey, Taxidermia,
which is set in Hungary, Austria, and France. The film tells
a bizarre multi-layered story that manages to combine the main characters
love of sex, competitive eating, and taxidermy.
One of the more enjoyable and inspirational selections of the World
View showcase was the film War/Dance from Uganda.
The film tells the story of a group of young singers and dancers
who attend the Patongo Primary School in the war torn region of
Northern Uganda. The children are members of the Acholi tribe and
they have participated in and witnessed some of the most brutal
warfare imaginable. Despite losing their families, their homes and
much of their innocence, the children are still filled with pride,
joy, and hope. War/Dance was the winner of Documentary
Directing prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival.
This year's educational panels were especially informative, dynamic,
and engaging. Each panel provided audiences with an opportunity
to engage in conversations with accomplished filmmakers and industry
leaders. The panels ranged from a discussion of screenwriting with
writers such as Athens, Georgia-born independent filmmaker James
Ponsoldt (Off the Black), to an informative and lively independent
filmmaking crash course with Rob Hardy and Will Packer of Rainforest
Films (the team behind the #1 box office hit, Stomp the Yard). There
were also panels covering international production, animation, and
the business side of filmmaking.
State of Independent Film: The State of Independent Film
was a particularly noteworthy panel because of the wide scope of
topics, excellent presentation, and the expertise of the panelists:
Tom Roche, Senior Editor, Crawford Communications; Allison Dickey,
Producer; Matt Dentler, Producer; SXSW Film Festival and Conference;
Chris Holland, Manager of Festival Operations at B-Side Entertainment.
Topics ranged from: satellite distribution and other alternative
distribution channels; the debate concerning films as art versus
product and the growing importance for filmmakers to understand
the world of film festivals.
Panelists agreed that navigating this new terrain will become a
more complex challenge in the very near future for filmmakers. The
options available for reaching audiences will present filmmakers
with enormous challenges. However, as panelist Tom Roche stated,
"Content is still King." Therefore, the most important
thing to be learned from the panel was that a good film will always
find an audience, regardless of any changes in the industry.
Overall, the 31st Atlanta Film Festival was a success with few
noticeable glitches and many outstanding moments:
- Audiences were treated to a wide and varied selection of quality
films from around the world and exposed to important educational
- The inclusion of the Teen Screen, CDC Health Media Program,
Rapid i Movement, and Campus Moviefest film series opened the
festival to a much broader audience.
- New venue was a huge success, finally creating a real "festival
atmosphere" worth attending.
- Taking a tip from Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, screening schedules
were ample, color-coded, and easy to interpret.
- New date was a good idea -- and not nearly as hot!
For even more information, see www.atlantafilmfestival.com.