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Last updated: August 20, 2005
Copyright 2006
Michael R. Colford. All rights reserved

Film Festival Reviews

Southern Festival Hits the Sidewalk

by Tara Brown
 
Birmingham, Alabama is not widely known for its arts and entertainment scene, and I would have never imagined that the "Magic City" would ever host a film festival when I moved here 13 years ago. But our fourth annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, or Sidewalk as the locals call it, happened the weekend of September 20-22.
 
Sidewalk, created in 1999, aims to bring new films to a new audience - an audience that otherwise would not have access to them. Filmmakers from across Alabama and around the world (including as far away as New York, Los Angeles, Israel and Croatia) have come to Birmingham to screen their work at Sidewalk. The screening venues, including the historic Carver Theater, home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (www.jazzhall.com), are all located within one block of Birmingham's historic Alabama Theatre (www.alabamatheatre.com), which, in addition to screening films, serves as the festival's center of command. Festival patrons and film enthusiasts mix and mingle with filmmakers as they eat, drink, listen to music, and enjoy the historical district while deciding which films to see next.
 
Tara Brown, director and star of ChanceOver 80 films were shown at this year's festival. Included in this year's competitive lineup were seven features, eight documentaries, and 36 shorts. Sidewalk's non-competitive program included three features, two documentaries and over 30 shorts, many produced by Alabama filmmakers from across the state. Sidewalk's "new films to a new audience" mantra continued for its fourth year. The seven competition features include five Regional Premieres and the World Premiere of Chance, the directorial debut of Birmingham native Amber Benson, best known for her role on TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." With Sweet Home Alabama kicking off the festival and Amandla! A Revolution in Four-part Harmony closing it, and almost 10,000 attendees, Sidewalk's fourth year was a success across the board.
 

Although the festival's primary focus is exposing new, independent films and filmmakers to a new audience, we couldn't pass on the chance to screen Disney's Sweet Home Alabama. Festival Director, Erik Jambor, knew a small (unfortunately) part of the film had actually been filmed in Alabama and thought that it would be a great way to bring out a crowd who might not otherwise come downtown to watch smaller, but perhaps more brilliant films. The hope was that once they came and enjoyed themselves at the special Red Carpet Screening of Sweet Home Alabama, people would stay for the rest of the weekend to see new, exciting films.

 
This year's features jury consisted of Gabriel Wardell, who is also on the advisory board for both the Maryland Film Festival and Slamdance, Dan Bootzin, who wrote, directed and produced with his wife Elizabeth the independent feature Life Drawing, which gave Mark Ruffalo his first leading role, Glen Kirschbaum, documentary director and producer whose works include The Unfinished Civil War, winner for best documentary at Sidewalk 2001, and Kent Osborne, writer and star of the subversely hysterical Dropping Out and former host of TBS's "The Movie Lounge." The shorts jury included Skizz Cyzyk, the founder/festival director of MicroCineFest, an annual underground film festival in Baltimore, dedicated to showcasing off-beat material made with very low budgets, Kerry Lambert, the Editor of The Short Skinny, the only on-line magazine of short cinema, and Janet Tiller, an Account Manger for Kodak Entertainment Imaging.
 

Easy ListeningAmong this year's winning films were Easy Listening, awarded Best Feature, Chance, which picked up the Audience Choice Feature award, and Shalom Y'all cleaning up with both Best Documentary and Audience Choice Documentary award. Please visit us on-line at www.sidewalkfest.com for a complete list of films, winners, and background information.

 
This concluded my third year as a Sidewalk staff member. I loved the first year so much, I knew the only way I could be satisfied was to be a bigger part of it all. I already miss the festival environment and can't wait to start planning for our fifth festival. Come on down and enjoy some great cinema and huge helping of southern hospitality!
 

Boston International Festival of Women's Cinema High Falls Film FestivalIndependent Film Festival of BostonProvincetown International Film Festival • Sidewalk Film Festival • Sundance Film FestivalToronto International Film FestivalTribeca Film FestivalVenice Film Festival