Ebony and I had the honor of attending the 20th Sidewalk Film Festival. The festival made a slight relocation to the Pizitz Food Hall. Although they’re not quite ready to cut the ribbon, I was excited about their facilities. As an entry-level lover of cinema, attending both the tour and festival itself was a pretty big deal. Every holiday season, I make a mad dash to watch every independent film that caught my interest during the span of that year. Either they are only released in selected cities or only stay around at the local theater for one week. I’ll be ahead of the curve this year thanks to Sidewalk. I saw a lot of good movies, a couple great ones, but most importantly, I got take a closer look at Sidewalk’s plans for the future.
Sidewalk’s new space will feature two theaters, a full bar, and classrooms. The theater will be used to show independent and repertory films that usually have a delayed released to the Birmingham area. There are plans to show a few classic films as well but they’ll be careful not to compete with Alabama Theater. The full bar will be a common area for passersby and ticket-holders alike. The classroom spaces will allow Sidewalk to continue the development of the film community in Birmingham. No hard date is set yet but Sidewalk is eyeing a spring opening for its new facilities.
Now, on to the films.
[Note: No spoilers, only quick blurbs. I would hate to ruin these films for anyone interested.]
Black Lens Shorts
The Black Lens Shorts series features short films by and about African-Americans.
A Conversation with the Devil – Jonathan Jackson
A Conversation with the Devil is Lucifer’s first TV appearance. He’s asked questions about heaven/hell, Jesus, and the one human emotion that fuels his legacy. The decor in addition to the use of brown, red and yellow gives this interview of the feel of a CBS Evening segment from the 60s. With Lucifer donning a blazer and taking the occasional drag of his cigarette, it’s a contemporary take on Paradise Lost.
It’s Just a Gun – Brian Robau
It’s Just a Gun showed how easily a gun travels and how it usually ends up in the wrong hands. Through great directing and storytelling, it astutely portrays gun culture in America, particularly in impoverished areas. Every young actor in this spectacular short do a great job considering the emotional weight required for their roles.
Mid-City Blue – Kris Wilson
Mid-City Blue raises a timely question: Can you fight the fight if you’re fighting on the same side as your oppressor? The question in this short is answered definitively. A recent graduate of the police academy stops by the dry cleaners to pick up his uniform. While giving his cousin a ride to a downtown protest, he gets pulled over by the cops. Wilson’s clear message here is that a blue uniform can be removed but black skin can’t.
Straight Line – Carl Harrison, Jr.
A group of musicians kick-back after a successful gig. They grab a bite to eat, have a few drinks and joke around. The end comes to a conclusion so they decide to head back to their hotel. Instead of stopping for gas, they decide to keep pushing in favor of filling up in the morning. A cop pulls them over and asks everyone to get out the car. Inspired by the true story that leads to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, Straight Line shows just how quickly a routine stop can go awry. Friend of the site, @BaronAhmon, stars in this impressive short.
The Future is Bright – Courtney Faye Powell
The Future is Bright is an accurate representation of how (black) women often have to ignore their own feelings and beliefs in order to do the work put in front of them. The majority of this short is about a young newscaster practicing her on-the-scene report for the next day. Unbeknownst to her, she would witness a tragedy. The bright color palettes and overall visual tone clash with the words she’s reciting. She looks delighted to be doing her job although the words she keeps reciting should say the contrary. The contrast here is a good device to keep the audience anticipating the incident that lies ahead. I won’t tell you which incident this is exactly because it’ll spoil the entire thing. The Future is Bright chose quite a unique way to tell a story I have never heard before.
Support the Girls – Andrew Bujalski
The service industry is one of the most underappreciated career fields in America. Support the Girls is about Lisa (Regina Hall), who is the general manager of the sports bar, Double Whammies. Whammies is only rival to Hooters with their waitress uniforms and the clientele those uniforms attract. Faced with a dilemma, Lisa takes action to support her staff with the help of her two most trusted employees Danyelle (Shayna McHale) and Maci (Haley Lu Richardson). The result is a heartbreaking yet, heartwarming story about selflessness and sacrifice. The great cast of Support the Girls makes it worth checking out.
Little Music Manchild: The Malik Kofi Story – Malena Cunningham Anderson
Wunderkind Malik Kofi is a world class-cellist. The catch? He’s only eleven years old. Little Music Manchild explores how important it is to cultivate potential once it is identified at an early age. It shows the sacrifices Malik’s family goes through because they believe in so strongly in the dream he wants to achieve. You will undoubtedly leave this film impressed by the young man Malik Kofi.
Wrestle – Suzannah Herbert, Lauren Belfer
Not to play favorites but Wrestle was one of my favorite films of the weekend. Although it’s a documentary, it’s framed in a way that builds a great narrative. It’s a story of tragedy and triumph. At J.O. Johnson High School, which serves one of the poorest zones of Huntsville, four students fight their way into the state tournament. What makes this such a gripping story is the adversity they face outside the ring. I found myself rooting for these kids and begging for a happy ending. Herbert and Belfer are clearly talented and this documentary should be high on your list of films to watch for 2018.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening – RaMell Ross
Quick story: Although I’m originally from Demopolis, I spent the majority of my early life in a small Hale County community named Gallion. I’m glad this movie exists due to having to always explain: “It’s right outside of Greensboro, not like Forest Gump’s Greenbow”. Hale County This Morning, This Evening is quite poetic. It’s a project that grew from a collection of still photos into a living, moving collection of images of rural life. Hale County This Morning, This Evening tells you nothing. Instead, it lets the story tell itself. It follows two men around for the duration of the movie but the real character here is Hale County and its beauty. Moss’ camera feels alive and captures the smallest aspects of life in a rural area. I highly recommend this film once it goes into distribution.
I saw one more film but I am saving it for a review. I’ve never had a stronger reaction to a movie, negative or positive, so a quick blurb won’t suffice. You’re going to want to check back later this week because you’re going to hear a lot about this movie throughout the remainder of 2018.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the Sidewalk Film Festival. It was my first but hopefully not my last. Although I missed a few I really wanted to see, I still left with a great slate of movies.