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Preview: Atlanta Film Festival Puts the Spotlight on Local Film

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Now in its 36th year, the Atlanta Film Festival from March 23 to April 1 has chugged along in fits and starts. A major blow came in 2010 when the Board of Directors of ATL Film 365 fired the bulk of its staff after a financially disappointing festival.

Georgia Museum of Art

The festival returns this year with a very visible emphasis on local film, from a heartfelt documentary about Clermont Lounge celebrity nekkid dancer Blondie and another about the man who build Atlanta’s skyline architect John Portman, to a short about the King(s) of Pops Steven and Nick Carse. At its best this year’s Atlanta Film Festival is an opportunity to bask in the warm glow of the idiosyncratic Atlantans who helped shape and continue to shape our city’s landscape.

All images courtesy the Atlanta Film Festival.

Not Yet Begun To Fight

Essential viewing for anyone who suffers from the delusion that war is ever over for the men and women who fight, director Sabrina Lee’s harrowing, artful film follows a Vietnam vet, retired Marine Colonel Eric Hastings who has translated the salvation from war’s horrors he found in fly-fishing to a new generation of Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Today Hastings operates fly-fishing tours for wounded veterans in the almost impossible to believe beauty of rural Montana. Hastings hopes that these veterans with their multiple missing limbs, eyes, paralysis, facial injuries, and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will find the same momentary relief from their suffering that he still does. Hastings’ perspective shows the long-term effects of battle: decades later he still chokes up remembering his own loss of innocence in war and shudders at the thought of his own son now serving abroad. During the course of the film we watch five men with various approaches to their injuries, from profound despair to gallows humor, find a pure, connective relief on a fly-fishing expedition.

Georgia Museum of Art

An unforgettable, expertly crafted film that occasionally gives the impression you are getting into the headspace of these men, men whose bravery and skill allowed them to soar above the  fray and who have now plunged back to earth.

Sat, Mar 24, 07:00 PM, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Sweet Old World

Onetime Atlanta filmmaker David Zeiger (The Band) returns to his twin obsessions of high school marching bands and misfit dads and their tortured relationships with their sons in this narrative film. A former fine art photographer Brian Hinkle (John Nielsen) who has resurfaced post divorce and post tragedy as a wedding photographer has a complex relationship with his talented young son Ethan (Jacques Colimon), a Juilliard-bound musician who also plays in his Pasadena school band. But when a trouble-making kid from the past Jimmy (Eric-Peter Kaiser) returns to school, Beautifully shot, with glossy production values, Sweet Old World boasts some engaging young actors but a storyline that often meanders in between moments of implausible, occasionally silly, content.

Sun, Mar 25, 06:45 PM, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Beauty is Embarrassing

This high-quirk factor documentary follows the fascinating career path of Tennessee-born and Los Angeles-based artist and lovable nut Wayne White along the meandering route of his artistic inspirations, from fledgling New York City career beginnings working alongside East Village scenesters as a puppetmaster on the anarchical Pee-wee’s Playhouse cult hit, through his launching of a fine art career with his bold, text-pronouncements (“Hot Shots and Know It Alls,” “Failed Abstract Paintings of the Seventies,” “Fanfuckintastic”) against a backdrop of thrift store painting landscapes. and ongoing interest in upsetting the pretenses and hierarchy of the gallery system. A vastly entertaining look into the creative avidity of Wayne and the people like his two chips-off-the-old-block artist children and earthy cartoonist wife Mimi  Pond  would surround him.  White, especially in his puppet-making, conveys the pure joy of shaking things up with art and watching the reactions of rage or joy that ensue from his audience.

Guided by White’s aw shucks, irreverent Southern boy personality, Beauty is Embarrassing is both profoundly silly and moving all at once, especially when White returns to his childhood home (moments that recall the fiction film Junebug) and talks about the role his parents played in his decision to become an artist. With appearances by Paul “Pee-wee” Reubens, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, designer Todd Oldham in a Father Time beard and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Beauty is Embarrassing is a charmer, from start to finish.

Sun, Mar 25, 12:30 PM, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Wayne White will be in attendance at the screening.

L!fe Happens

Though it doesn’t get off to a great start, with a dopey hook about two sexually adventurous roommates, one of whom Kim (Krysten Ritter) winds up preggers after her roommate Deena (Kate Bosworth) nabs the last condom in the house, L!fe Happens grows on you despite its rabid attempts to craft itself into a female answer to the Judd Apatow canon. Like Apatow’s never-grow-up duuuudes, Deena, Kim and Laura (Rachel Bilson) all live in a female clubhouse in L.A. while attending to their various life struggles. Deena is a budding writer and self-professed “playa,” who devours men for fun, Kim is trying to balance a going nowhere job, a love life and a baby.  The sidekick to their best friendship is their gorgeous virginal roommate Laura who, despite her chastity, has a propensity for sexually provocative jobs as a naked sushi table, a sexy valet and reality TV virgin.  The set-up of all of these hot chicks juggling career, men and babysitting can read like Three’s Company meets the you-go-girl sexual affirmation of Cosmo, but over time the way director Kat Coiro film depicts the close bonds of female friendship and its frank treatment of female sexual desire wears you down. Expect something marshmallow fluff light and slightly throwaway in the Young Adult mold, but clever by half and you won’t be disappointed.

Opening Night Film, Fri, Mar 23, 07:00 PM, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

AKA Blondie

As much an Atlanta institution as the Varsity, Jimmy Carter or our tropical summers, this documentary by Jon and Brantly Watts plumbs beneath the surface of the longtime 55-year-old Clermont Lounge dancer Anita Strange known for her beer-can crushing and poetry-reciting. What emerges is a portrait of a child abandoned early on by her father and shuttled between relatives at a very young age, tormented by her classmates and who, even into adulthood, has had her fair share of heartbreaks along the way. The doc could have easily reverted to Blondie’s novelty value and presented her in pure-showbiz mode as the social butterfly of the underground. But the fimmakers are after something deeper, and paying respect to a beloved figure on the Atlanta scene. Though the documentary can at times feel far too conventional in form—especially considering its iconoclastic subject—with its stodgy mix of TV dramaesque reenactments and a Barbara Walters propensity for getting Blondie to cry, the peek you get into the woman behind the party-girl facade makes it all worthwhile.

AKA Blondie will appear on a double bill with Kings of Pops Sun, Mar 25, 09:00 PM, Plaza Theatre.

Kings of Pops (on a bill with AKA Blondie)

The economy has brought tales of woe and dashed dreams, but for every door slammed shut, another one opens. One of the happier outcomes of a grim economy, when Steve Carse was fired from his job at AIG it allowed him to pursue a passion, making frozen palatas to sell at farmer’s markets, street fairs and busy corners around the city. Now his lawyer brother Nick is also in the family business and the brothers are shown in their new spacious kitchen chopping mangos and herbs for their now-famous icy treats. In this short and sweet film directed by Jennifer Rose Ligler, the brothers look very, very happy, like sun-baked surfers who have just caught the best wave ever.

AKA Blondie will appear on a double bill with Kings of Pops Sun, Mar 25, 09:00 PM, Plaza Theatre.

OK, Good

Few jobs traffic in the kind of anxiety, restlessness and perpetually denied pay-off of an acting career. In this film centered on the emotional toll of auditions, rejection and the actor’s life, Los Angeles single guy Paul Kaplan (Hugo Armstrong) is an above the traditional age thesp shown in a revolving door cycle of TV commercial auditions, acting workshops, head shot stapling and line-prepping.  He lives a solitary life in a small, anonymous apartment and drives to his next audition buoyed by self-help audio tapes.  An incredibly mannered film that aims to capture the gerbil-wheel repetitiveness of this life, as well as its loneliness, OK, Good establishes the claustrophobic, insular pace of Paul’s life. Though it opens with a light, odd tone defined by the wacky exercises performed by a room of actors at their regular movement workshops, by the film’s end it has gone to a very dark place, reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles or Michael Haneke’s death-tripping The Seventh Continent with its similar tale of ordinary, straight-laced people looking over sanity’s edge into the abyss. Though the storyline can be frustratingly slow going, it’s often worth it for the palpable sense of isolation and frustration director Daniel Martinico brings to this unique film.

Sat, Mar 31, 01:15 PM, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

John Portman: A Life of Building

The man who essentially built the Atlanta skyline, including the Hyatt Regency, SunTrust Plaza, the Marriott Marquis, AmericasMart and the Dobbs University Center and Woodruff Education Center at Emory, John Portman:A Life of Building is a suitably adulatory tribute to the 87-year-old local architect and real estate developer and his impact on the physical look of the city. Interviews with Portman’s children, architecture critic Paul Goldberger and Atlanta architect Mack Scogin testify to Portman’s staying power despite some serious setbacks along the way. Portman’s expansion into China allowed him to craft a midlife second act. Vertiginous camerawork captures the soaring garden atriums that define the Portman look and a tour of his extraordinary Atlanta and Sea Island homes, which can read as a cross between the swankiest bank in America and a vine-draped Planet of the Apes set show how closely Portman’s public and private aesthetics match-up.

Mon, Mar 26, 07:00 PM, Woodruff Arts Center