Sidewalk Film Festival 2015

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Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Directors: Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon

    The Festival opened with a fun documenary about the endeavors of three 11-year-olds in Mississippi to re-create their favorite film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, scene by scene. Shortly after the Steven Spielberg movie was released in 1981, Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb and Eric Zala, began assembling a cast using friends and the family dog for the adaptation. For seven years, they labored on the film, performing their own stunts. There was a lot of fire in the original Raiders which meant that they needed to set fire to a lot of things. In one scene, a stunt took a turn for the worse when Eric was set on fire. The scene was frightening, yet hilarious as his friends came to his rescue to put out the fire. Luckily, Eric wasn't injured and he only lost an eyebrow. All scenes were shot in Mississippi except for the submarine scene, which was shot in Mobile, AL. By the end of high school, their friendships became strained and they abandoned the project even though they only lacked one complex scene involving an airplane that needed to be blown up. Thirty years later, friendships revived, they tackled the remaining, dangerous scene and in 2014 completed their adaptation of Raiders. This amusing documentary is the spirited story of their adventure in filmmaking.

Alabama The Beautiful
Director: Corey Carpenter

    What started as a promotional video for an artist turned into an hour-long documentary about the impact of artisan businesses on Alabama. Filmmaker Corey Carpenter compiled a list of 12 artisan businesses and the first six he approached readily agreed to talk about their handmade products and the craftsmanship that goes into them. Through scenes showing the artisans at work and interviews, Alabama the Beautiful demonstrates how local craftspeople have rejuvenated their communities and how their products have contributed to a more positive image of the State.
    The companies and the artisans featured in the documentary are: RC Hagans, a cut paper and aerosol artist, Opelika, AL; Chasity Curtis, The Freedom Soap Company, Birmingham, AL; Jason Malone, Good People Brewing Comany, Birmingham, AL; Nadene Mairesse, clothing designer, Idyllwilde, Florence, AL; Randy Cochran and his two sons, Keith and Dylan, Wood Studio, Arley, AL; and Tasia Malakasis, Belle Chèvre, a cheese-making business in Elkmont, AL.
     Randy Cochran of Wood Studio, which specializes in woodworking designs, summed up what makes an artisan different from an artist, saying that their work comes with "responsibility" to provide the customer with a quality product, as well as an attractive design. His homespun humor was evident during much of his interview and he talked about the struggles of starting an artisan business. He ended by saying that there are two types of artists. "You're either Vincent or Pablo. Vincent worked his whole life and never sold anything. Pablo sold anything he scratched on."
     Tasia Malakasis of Belle Chèvre, a cheese-making company, lovingly spoke about her business and how the "table" is important to her as she hand-makes a traditional food product. Contented with her business and life in the small town of Elkmont, she spoke about how beautiful the town is and the townspeople who reside there. "Beautiful" was the word she continually used to describe the area and the whole state of Alabama.

7 Chinese Brothers
Director: Bob Byington
    There were three things about the full-length narrative, 7 Chinese Brothers, that made it a film worth watching. One was the lead in the comedy was played by a well-known and very good actor, Jason Schwartzman (Saving Mr. Banks, The Grand Budapest Hotel). The second is that his pet dog in real life shared the screen with him. Arrow is a really distinctive looking and adorable French bulldog. Jason's character, Larry, really loves the dog which is his only anchor in life except for his grandmother, played by Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis, the third reason the film was good. Larry is a young man with not much going on. He's unqualified and has trouble keeping a job and drinks too much. He finds his way into a Quick Lube job vacuuming cars and has to deal with a dishonest supervisor and complaining customers and falls for the kind, female manager. The movie is about his coming to terms with his life situation and taking some measure of responsibility. Coincidentally, the same weekend this film screened at the Sidewalk Film Festival, it was released in the U.S. in a limited release and video on demand.

Some Beasts
Director: Cameron Bruce Nelson

    Some Beasts starts as a simple story of a man named Sal who has checked out from modern society, leaving his past and a girlfriend behind to live off the land in remote Appalachia as a caretaker and gardener. But it isn't long before you're immersed in his struggles with learning the harsh land and adapting to isolation. His hopes that his girlfriend and her daughter will join him in the wild, green beauty of Appalachia are soon dashed.

     He becomes friends with a neighbor. It isn't long before Sal loses his new found frend to illness and death, adding to the loneliness he feels. The sensitive film speaks to anyone who has ever wanted to abandon their hectic life to live a simpler life with the lesson being that we all live complex lives regardless of the landscape and there is no escaping the human condition.
    The film was well-acted with Frank Mosley quietly portraying Sal in a way that you could sense the internal emotions and doubts of the character. The setting for the beautifully shot film was the southern part of West Virginia. Cameron Bruce Nelson, the very fine director and screenwriter, is from that area and this is his first narrative film. He is certainly someone to watch.
    The director and most of the actors were present for the screening at the Sidewalk Film Festival and answered questions from the audience afterwards. Nelson spoke about the making of the film. He told the audience a touching story about A'Court Bason, a local legend, who played himself as the neighbor dying in the film. A'Court asked to keep the wooden coffin that was made during the filming. He passed away a week after they wrapped and was buried in the coffin. Nelson said that the cast and crew had become very close to him during the making of the film and did not know he was ill. The film was dedicated to his memory.

Tired Moonlight
Director: Britni West

    Tired Moonlight is truly an art film. It is an extravagant celebration of summer in small town America with an extensive montage of scenes capturing the spirit of the season—lively with activities and calm with beautiful, grand landscapes. This is director Britni West's first feature. During this year she won the Slam Dance Grand Jury Prize and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film."

Secret Screening: Shhh!
Director: Dusty Bias

    A mysterious entry "Secret Screening" on the schedule for the last day of the Sidewalk Film Festival piqued my interest. There was no title or information about the type of film or the actors or director. I debated whether I should go and find out the secret. Would it be a good film? Or, would I regret my decision? My curiosity won out. The Great and the Small turned out to be no small effort. It is a very professionally made narrative film. From the story to the actors to the direction and cinematography, the independent film would rival any major studio-made film. The setting is Birmingham, AL and the entire film was shot in and around the city. Nick Fink (Justified), who played Scott, the troubled main character, said the screenplay, written by director Dusty Bias of Orange Beach, AL, changed constantly during the production. This fine tuning may explain the freshness of the storyline dealing with a father, instead of a mother, tracking down a child given up for adoption at birth. It also showed a different sort of homeless person who is manipulated into participating in a heist, but has unselfish plans for his share of the loot. Ann Dowd, a familiar character actress, played the detective investigating the crime who is single-minded in her pursuit of the culprits. But, in the end, she lets her heart guide her.

Back To The Future Part II
Director: Robert Zemeckis

    One of the last films screened at Sidewalk was a well-known classic. The reason Back to the Future Part II was selected as the Festival's retro screening was that the story of time travel takes the main characters Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) from 1985 to 2015. In the 1989 film's vision of 2015, police cars fly and kids zip around on Hoverboards, the new generation of skate boards that glide above the ground. While the vision of technology was wrong, the comedy classic film was just the right change of pace at the Festival—still entertaining and fun.

Final Thoughts
    The large number of films being screened at the Sidewalk Film Festival and the companion SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival meant that I missed many films I wanted to see. It was always difficult to choose. My regrets are that I did not see: The Wolfpack, a documentary about brothers who are home-schooled and rarely allowed to leave their apartment with movies as their only contact with the outside world; H, a paranormal mystery; The Keeping Room, a cross between a Civil War-era home invasion thriller and a female-led western; and The Invitation, a thriller. I also regretted missing SHOUT's presentation of Henry Gamble's Birthday Party.
    In addition to the screenings, there were many events, including several panel discussions on filmmaking and screenplay readings, competitions and seminars. I attended a screenplay seminar on how to address five of the biggest screenplay problems. The informative seminar was presented by Steve Storm, a USC School of Cinema-Television graduate, screenwriter and veteran story consultant.
    The Sidewalk Film Festival's Jury Awards went to: Krisha, Jambor-Franklin Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature; The Loyalist, Best Narrative Short; T-Rex, Best Documentary Feature; and The House Is Innocent, Best Documentary Short. SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival Jury Awards went to: Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, Best SHOUT Feature; The Glamour & The Squalor, SHOUT Programmers Award; and Tomgirl, Best SHOUT Short.

—Mary McCord, Editor
    Classic Film Watch

About the SideWalk Film Festival and the SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival

    The Sidewalk Film Festival is in its 17th year of presenting new independent cinema in the theatre district of downtown Birmingham, AL. Since its debut in 1999, filmmakers from across the country and around the world have come to the city to screen their work at Sidewalk. The Festival is a production of the Alabama Moving Image Association, a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging, inspiring and supporting independent films and filmmaking in Alabama. The SHOUT LGBTQ Film Festival is a Sidewalk companion festival that showcases films about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
    USA Today lists Sidewalk as "One of the Top 10 Places for a Fabulous Film Festival." TIME Magazine ranks the Festival as one of the "Top 10 Film Festivals for the Rest of Us" and Movie Maker Magazine ranks Sidewalk as one of the "Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals." For more information about this year's Festival, click here.

Sidewalk Film Festival Presented 250 Films: Shorts, Documentaries & Full-Length Narratives
Festival opened with Raiders! Documentary on the Fan Remaking of an Action Classic

Posted by Mary McCord, Editor, 9-2-15

   It was difficult to pick the films to watch during the Sidewalk and SHOUT festivals because of the abundance of screenings all around Birmingham's theatre district. The films I saw were both entertaining and thought-provoking. Following are some of my observations.

Sidewalk Festival Logo
August 28-29, 2015
Birmingham, AL

Zala Raiders
Eric Zala, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.

Corey Carpenter
Corey Carpenter's first film, Alabama The Beautiful premiered at Sidewalk. He is a University of Alabama student.

Alabama Theatre
The historic Alabama Theatre, an old movie palace built in 1927 in downtown Birmingham, was one of the venues for the Sidewalk Film
Festival. Other venues located in the theatre
district that screened the films were the Red Mountain Theatre Company; Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre; and Carver Theatre.