6 Can’t-Miss Sidewalk Feature Films

With more than 250 films screening at Sidewalk Film Festival, where do you start? The masterminds behind the film festival shared their top picks for feature films to save you some research.

Let’s start with films with Alabama ties:


Service to Man

This feature about the first white student at an all-black medical school in the 1960s was loosely based on the experiences of co-director Seth Panitch’s father. Inspired by true events at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, it follows Brooklyn native Eli and his clash with fellow student Michael amidst the backdrop of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Ultimately, the two must wrestle with the question of whether their role as physicians is in service of self or in service of man.

Panitch, who heads the MFA and undergraduate acting programs at the University of Alabama, co-directed the film. Emmy award winner Keith David (Crash, Requiem for a Dream) plays Dean Holmes, and Lamman Rucker (Meet the Browns) is Dr. Johnson. Other Alabama ties include filming in West Alabama; Eric Marable Jr. (Franklin), a graduate of the University of Alabama’s theater department; and Morgan Auld (Eli Rosenberg), who played Romeo at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Screening Sunday. Aug. 28, 10 a.m., Carver Theatre

First Lady of the Revolution

Henrietta Boggs was on summer break from Birmingham-Southern College visiting an aunt and uncle in Costa Rica when she rode on the motorcycle of a local charismatic farmer. A year later in 1941, she married Jose “Don Pepe” Figueres, and seven years later, a revolution he led restored democracy and made Boggs the country’s first lady. First Lady of the Revolution captures her journey from the “Southern way of life” to that of activism, exile, and reform, which eventually brought her back to her native Alabama.

“Henrietta Boggs’s story…is not just her own, nor is it only Costa Rica’s,” director Andrea Kalin says. “This is a tale of deep historical relevance reaching even beyond one hemisphere.” Among those interviewed in the film is Boggs’ granddaughter Mavi Figueres, who lives in Birmingham and visits Boggs, still energetic at 98, in Montgomery nearly every weekend.

Screening Saturday. Aug. 27, 11:40 a.m., First Christian Church

And now for other top-rated features to add to your list:

Holy Hell

After college in the 1980s, Will Francesco Allen became a member of guru-based religious sect called Buddhafield. For 20 years, he documented on film their secret world in West Hollywood that attracted flower children born a few years too late. Along the way their spiritual guru’s true colors as a megalomaniac start to show. When Allen finally extricated himself, he decided to use his footage of drug-induced highs and other acts of love and spirituality to share the story of abuse of power and control he lived through. For him, the film was a way to advocate personal freedom, prevention, and self-empowerment.

Screening Sunday. Aug. 28, 3:20 p.m., Alabama Theatre

Contemporary Color

Most who have been through high school know what color guard is: a dance group that uses flags, rifles, and sabers to accompany marching band shows or perform solo in gyms. But in the summer of 2015, legendary musician David Byrne elevated the concept to a new level using what he knows best—live music. The result is dance. It’s rock. It’s Saint Vincent, Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock, and Ira Glass. And it’s 10 color guard teams from across the U.S. and Canada. This documentary captures the live event at Brooklyn’s Barclays, celebrating the art of color guard in a new way.

Screening Saturday. Aug. 27, 2:25 p.m., Alabama Theatre


Little Sister

In this dark comedy, Colleen, a young nun, finds her room as she left it, painted black and covered in goth posters. She had been avoiding contact from her family, but news of her brother’s return from the Iraq war following a landmine incident sends her back to Ashville, North Carolina. With her brother living as a recluse in a guest house, awkwardness and unease ensue in the house as Colleen has trouble regaining closeness with her family during her short five days away from the convent.

Screening Sunday. Aug. 28, 6 p.m., Alabama Theatre

Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows

In the 1970s Syl Johnson recorded with the same band and producer as Al Green at Hi Records in Memphis, but his legacy was all but the same. His career—which spanned every genre of black music: blues, soul, funk, hip hop—seemingly ended in the ’80s, and he is largely unknown today. Still, as this documentary shows, his talent and perseverance won out. His 1967 song “Different Strokes” was sampled by artists including the Beastie Boys and Jay Z, and the release of a comprehensive boxed set brought him a Grammy nomination.

Screening Saturday. Aug. 27, 5:20 p.m., ASFA Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre

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