Last year, “Moviemaker” magazine named the “top 25 coolest film festivals.” Venues mentioned came from all over the world, from New York to Switzerland. But one of those festivals occurs each year only an hour’s drive down I-20.
From Sept. 24-26, Birmingham will host its Sidewalk Film Festival in nine venues throughout the historic Theatre District.
During the festival weekend, people will have the opportunity to view this year’s independent films from around the world.
“It’s a sampling of the best independent films of the year,” said Rachel Morgan, lead programmer of Sidewalk and an adjunct professor at the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. “For the competitive festival, we get between 500 and 800 entries a year. We also shop around for bigger films at South by Southwest and other festivals.”
Attendees can expect such titles as “Mutant Girls Squad,” “The Human Centipede” and “American Jihadist.” Needless to say, a lot of genres are represented.
“There is no certain niche of films we attract,” Morgan said. “We are a general festival with everything from horror films to more traditional dramas.”
Much of the festival is geared toward the Alabama film scene. About 20 percent of the films were made in the state. “Not my Son” explores gun violence in Birmingham. “Ready, Set, Bag!” spotlights the U.S. National Grocers Association’s Best Bagger competition and features a fast bagger from Huntsville. “Lifted,” a movie shot completely in Alabama, even features big-name actors like Trace Adkins and Dash Mihok.
“One of our focuses is Alabama,” Morgan said. “We want this to be truly a festival for the state.”
UA students are playing their part too. Henry Busby, a senior majoring in American studies and telecommunication and film, along with another student, Bruce Henry, submitted a short documentary titled “In Brilliant.” The film follows two high-school seniors deciding whether or not to pursue opportunities outside the small town of Brilliant, Ala.
“I think it’s a movie about the love/hate relationship a lot of people have with their homes,” Busby said. “That’s an idea that’s especially relatable to people in the South.”
Busby and Henry produced their film for last year’s Documenting Justice class.
“There are so many things you learn in that class,” said Busby. “Not only about documentaries, but about interaction with people and effective storytelling.”
Busby is looking forward to telling his story to Sidewalk’s audiences. He said he hopes all of the local films are well-received.
“I think it’s important to continue to cultivate those opportunities for Alabama filmmakers,” he said. “People don’t think of the South and Alabama in particular as a region for filmmaking. But the people here have a lot of say.”
It’s no surprise Alabama citizens aren’t up-to-date on their indie films. In fact, the Capri Theatre in Montgomery and Crescent Theater in Mobile are two of the only full-time independent cinemas in the state. But even hosting one of the “top 25 coolest” film festivals in the world has yet to spark the emergence of an independent theater in Birmingham.
“I think the Alabama community hasn’t embraced the independent genre,” said Christian Kerr, a marketing intern with Sidewalk and a senior at UAB. “Maybe because they unfortunately just don’t know about it.”
Sidewalk and festivals like it could be the answer.
“We need people to have a lifelong interest in the genre,” Kerr said. “These film festivals are not just weekend events. Filmmakers are working every day. They deserve our support.”
The event takes place in a four-block radius downtown and offers 15 bands on an outdoor stage, parties and a general social atmosphere.
“There’s actually a party at the McWane Science Center following the opening night screening,” Kerr said. “There will be a cash bar and all the attractions will be open. You could bicycle across the tightrope while touching elbows with all the directors.”
For students, day passes are $20, weekend passes are $50 and single screening tickets are $10.
For more information, visit sidewalkfest.com.