Sidewalk Film Festival highlights independent films

Desi Gillespie, Contributing Writer

This weekend the 20th annual Sidewalk Film Festival opened in Birmingham. The three-day event was packed with various showings, featuring almost 100 films played in iconic locations such as the Alabama and Lyric theatres.

Wade Scanlan, a junior majoring in film and telecommunications, attended the event with a purpose.

“I am a film major so it’s really important for me to involve myself in different areas that showcase filmmakers across the country, but it is especially important in the community of Alabama,” Scanlan said.

Julia Fleisig, a shorts filmmaker and animation student at the University of Southern California, attended the festival in support of her film “Halbo’s Hat,” which screened during the sold-out animated shorts block.

“As a Birmingham native, I have always been thankful for the culture, art and talent that Sidewalk Film Festival has brought to our state; but now as an actual filmmaker accepted into the competitive festival, I am truly in awe of how amazing this festival really is,” Fliesig said. “The love and support of film, as well as the filmmakers, culminated into an unforgettable weekend.”

Alongside the showcasing of independent films were informational lectures and workshops, referred to as “Sidetalks.” These sessions served as the aspiring filmmakers’ TED talks, covering political action, sports documentaries and LGBTQ+ history, and casting and budgeting advice. Past Sidewalk award winners and current festival runners headed up “Sidetalks” as panelists, providing realistic takes on the harrowing gambit of “making it” in the industry.

Beyond educational value, there is of course a competitive aspect to the festival. “Sidewrite” returned to this year’s lineup of events, a screenplay competition in which screenwriters submit their work to a jury of award-winning industry professionals. The winners received cash prizes, as well as a table reading of their scripts in an event at the Alabama School of Fine Art’s Gallery. Troy Kelly won the most prestigious award of the competition, Best Feature Screenplay, for his script “Indian Country.”

“We had a packed house for the table reads and record submissions for Sidewrite this year, so I think ultimately it was a welcomed return,” Sidewalk Education and Outreach Coordinator Kiwi Lanier said.

The festival opened on Friday with a screening of “White Tide: The Legend of Culbera,” directed by Theo Love and produced by Bryan Storkel. The film focuses on the adventures of a father, Rodney Hyden, as he searches for a lost treasure in the Caribbean in order to revive his family’s crippled finances post-Great Recession. It’s as outlandish as it is heartwarming.

“The action-heist-thriller-documentary [kicked] Sidewalk weekend off in the true spirit of fantastical Southern storytelling,” SFF Creative Director Rachel Morgan said.

The main competition for the Academy-like awards of the Sidewalk Film Festival garners many hopeful entries from around the nation. The two headlining categories of film submissions, Documentary Features and Narrative Features, command much of the hype around the festival.

One such documentary covers the unique story of Tuscaloosa’s own comedy band, the Raudelunas, in “Icepick to the Moon.” Directed by Skizz Cyzyk, the film focuses on the man behind the character of frontman the Rev. Fred Lane and spotlights the long-awaited Raudelunas’ “Pataphysical Revue” reunion.

Alabama’s only state entry for the Narrative Feature competition was “Union,” a Civil War epic in the classic style. The plot revolves around Grace Kieler disguising herself as her brother, Henry, and fighting in Gen. John S. Mosby’s army. After being rescued by a widow when injured in the Battle of Antietam, Henry makes his way back to Virginia to save her from an arranged marriage. Marked by love as much as bloodshed, “Union” presents a story that challenges our notions of the Civil War and the people who fought in it.

However, there could only be one winner of each category at the now-prestigious festival.