While the popcorn machines at the Plaza are still warm, the Highland Ballroom still echoing the clamor of daily happy hours and the audience awards just announced, we thought we’d weigh in with thoughts on this year’s Atlanta Film Festival [March 15-24, 2013].
Two weeks after wrapping up, Kristy Brenneman—AFF Features Programmer—is still beaming with satisfaction from the achievements of the 2013 Festival. Sitting with us at a local bar she opens with an anecdote, “Last year after the festival closed, no one showed up to work. This year, the office was abuzz at 9 am on Monday. Everyone is energized and eager to start working towards next year.” Record crowds, new support for the Atlanta film community, and the opportunity to engage visitors with the local creatives of Atlanta were just some of the achievements that had Kristy smiling with satisfaction as she talked with us. By bringing in a diversity of programming, the Atlanta Film Festival is influencing our city in meaningful and unexpected ways.
For 2013, the Plaza Theatre served as home base— one of the biggest changes from previous years. Under new ownership and sporting new renovations, the city’s cinema gem was shining bright for all ten days. Not only is the theater a more intimate setting than Midtown Arts Cinema, but it’s closer to the lively settings that the city has to offer: Caddy corner to the Druid Hills Baptist Church, next door to the Highland Ballroom for happy hour, and a short walk to Little Five Points’ 7 Stages for films, this year’s festival was steeped in the local instead of feeling like a tourist attraction. Not only was the Plaza a key venue for the films, but for the first time, the Druid Hills Baptist Church, the Goat Farm, the Starlight Drive-In and 7 Stages incorporated programming.
On opening day of the Festival, we walked up to the lively Plaza Theatre—people donning AFF badges directed festival goers into different lines, filmmakers posed on the red carpet, and everyone was consulting the schedules in the thick festival guide. We stood in the pass holders’ line and commented that the festival feels organized and sophisticated. Just like clockwork, 15 minutes before the film started we were motioned into the Plaza lobby with enough time to grab popcorn and went up the stairs to the small screen.
The Atlanta-centric focus of the 2013 Atlanta Film Festival opened with a short block titled, This is Atlanta, featuring six shorts by Atlanta filmmakers and curated by Christina Humprey—who is new to AFF as the Shorts Programmer. Humprey’s selection of films define Atlanta as a city still unlocking its history in light of creative minds that keep reinventing the wheel. Out of Stone by Stephen Grum documents the personal stories in contrast to the racial stereotypes of lifelong residents of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Girl with the Tuba by Esteban Arguello examines a street musician’s muse in an eye-opening tale of overcoming obstacles. Also in the short block, the WonderRoot commission by William Feagin, Change in the Game—presented by A3C filmfest—allows Atlanta based hip-hop artists to share their trials and tribulations of navigating the music industry by forging a unique path.
Ryan White’s acclaimed documentary Good Ol’ Freda tells the story of Freda Kelly, the dedicated secretary for the Beatles for 11 years. Freda’s story has long been coveted by press, fans and historians as she was knee deep in the Beatles’ personal and professional lives. Her strong and secretive personality reveals itself in the careful way she discusses her role as secretary while still protecting the lives of the musicians in using selective storytelling. With Freda as focus, many Beatles archives opened their doors to allow never-before-seen photographs and film footage to be used in the documentary; even the Beatles catalog gets a premiere in the documentary. Good Ol’ Freda was received with delight; the Druid Hills Baptist Church was packed with a diverse audience who came together to relish in nostalgia.
The Suicide Kid, directed by Marcus Sullivan, follows an awkward university freshman, Timothy Laloom, as he tries to make friends with fellow film students. The story is told completely through Timothy’s online video diary, which gains popularity after he uploads a video of his failed suicide attempt. The film is an innovative and effective statement about video bloggers and their relationships with, and responsibilities to, their viewers.
Aside from the dozens of films, there were other events that made this year special. The Sound & Vision event at the Goat Farm typified the energized culmination of visual arts, music and film. Supporting the ever-growing relevancy of film in the creative realm, a smart selection of video and installation art decorated the thoroughfare of the Goat Farm event space. Lana Vogestad’s installation, Bones to Skin, consisting of a mound of white sand, seemed mystical in the dark grassy space outside of Goodson Yard; upon close inspection the sand was illuminated with ocean waves. Immediately Vogstad’s work drew you in to a familiar and peaceful beach, but one you are never able to enter; a temporality of emotions lives at the center of her incredible installation.
CINformation was again a huge part of the festival. Numerous film based seminars and panels focusing on everything from developing and production to lighting, screenwriting and animation were held throughout the ten day festival. The educational aspect of any community based event can’t be emphasized enough as Atlanta makes its mark as a premier film town. With the staff and the city feeling optimistic about the success of this year’s festival, the possibility of year round programming from them is an exciting prospect. The anticipation for next year is already high.