Macon Film Festival Kicks Off July 21

Hotel Clermont
Atlanta-based director Heather Hutson’s Hotel Clermont focuses on the hotel’s former tenants.

Most film festivals in Georgia take place in either the fall, winter or spring, but the Macon Film Festival (MFF) goes against the grain by presenting its four-day event in the dead of summer. This year’s event, which takes place July 21-24, focuses mostly on indie work from filmmakers in the Southeast, but there are also international entries and a retrospective screening on the opening night of John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink (1986) with star Andrew McCarthy in attendance.  

Short films in particular outnumber the narrative features this year and there are several premieres and programming events that might be of interest to Atlantans, such as Heather Hutson’s Hotel Clermont. Although the iconic Atlanta hotel on Ponce de Leon Avenue closed in 2009, the Clermont Lounge strip club in the basement is still a popular night spot. Hutson’s 29-minute portrait is focused primarily on some of the hotel’s former tenants who represent the outer fringes of society in the city. An even more offbeat subject is explored in Eat White Dirt, a documentary by Adam Forrester that explores the idiosyncratic tradition of eating chunks of kaolin, the white, chalky clay that is still sold in some rural convenience stores and groceries in Georgia, Alabama, and other Southern states. Some practitioners claim there are health benefits to eating white dirt, which is known by the scientific name of aluminum silicate hydroxide, and Forrester interviewed them and experts on the phenomenon known as geophagy, the practice of eating dirt. 

EatWhiteDirt
Eat White Dirt, Adam Forrester’s documentary on the Southern tradition of eating kaolin clay.

Kaolin also plays a less obvious role in the narrative short Almost Home by filmmaker BJ Golnick, who shot the film at the kaolin mines outside Macon, which in his film serve as an Afghanistan battlefield. While the main storyline is about a returning soldier and his estranged relationship with his dying father, the film also touches on post-traumatic stress disorder and the type of intense friendships that often develop in life-or-death situations in war zones. Other Georgia-related films include Ridgeland, a tale of two teenage friends with different priorities, by Savannah College of Art and Design filmmaker Taylor MacDonald and Michael Cooke’s Across the Tracks. The latter short, which was filmed in Arlington, Georgia, and is set in the 1960s, tells the story of two African-American sisters who reach a turning point in their relationship when one of them decides to pass for white. Atlanta filmmakers Nicole Kemper and Grant McGowen present an episode of The Mother Load, a comedic web series about two friends who have very different ideas about how to raise their kids. 

Legs
Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town, by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke.

Films in this year’s festival that deal directly with art and artists include Harry Benson: Shoot First, a portrait of the photographer by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare, and Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town by Beatrice Alda, daughter of actor Alan Alda, and Jennifer Brooke. The documentary follows the controversy that erupted in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2008 after a 16-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture of a pair of women’s legs by the late artist Larry Rivers was installed outside the private home of gallery owners Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered. The filmmakers describe their film as “a lighthearted look at what it means to live in a small town—with all of the pros and cons that come with it.”

MFF also tips its hat toward the city’s rich musical heritage by programming documentaries on two distinctly different musicians, bass player Nathan East and punk poet/musician Hammell on Trial. Nathan East: For the Record by Chris Gero is a behind-the-scenes portrait of the Philadelphia-born musician that charts his rise from his early work with soul/funk/disco legend Barry White to the acclaimed jazz outfit Fourplay. Vic Campos’s Hammell on Trial: An Artist in America mixes live performances with interviews to create a fascinating portrait of an eccentric, hard-to-categorize artist who has been performing for over 30 years and has been described by one critic as “Bill Hicks, Hunter S. Thompson and Joe Strummer all rolled into one.”

NathanEast
Nathan East: For the Record, directed by Chris Gero.

Among the entries in the LGBT competition, festival promoter Terrell Sandefur strongly recommends Bullied to Death as one of the most experimental and artfully shot narrative features at this year’s event. Directed by Giovanni Coda and featuring Atlanta actor Tendall Mann, the 70-minute film depicts parts of a 24-hour performance commemorating lives lost to homophobic violence. The film’s director attended MFF last year, where he met and befriended Mann. Coda subsequently cast the young actor in Bullied to Death, which was filmed in the director’s native Italy.

Sandefur is still confirming some other festival events and announcing recent additions, such as Contemporary Color, a documentary about high school color guard teams by Bill and Turner Ross, and Laura Dunn’s The Seer, which spotlights farmer, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry.

Check out the Macon Film Festival website for further details.

Jeff Stafford writes about art, film, music, gardening and other favorite topics for various digital publications.

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