Sidewalk Film Festival


Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

A guide to the 16th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival.

Compiled by Lindsey Lowe

 

The Sidewalk Film Festival is, in a word, legendary. If you’re a filmmaker, it’s where you want to be. Since the inaugural festival in 1999 (yep, this year is its 16th), it’s been drawing filmmakers from around the country to the streets of Birmingham to showcase and celebrate independent film. But even if you don’t run in those crowds, you know about Sidewalk. It shows up right as Birmingham begins to sag under the weight of August humidity and revives us; indeed, Birmingham has proven itself an enthusiastic crowd, as hungry for new independent films as it is for Steel City Pops. And we know this year will be no different.

What is different this year are the films, ranging from documentaries to horror shorts to comedies. This year, on August 22–24, more than 200 films will be shown throughout eight venues around Birmingham. Though it was difficult to choose just a few, we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting in the following pages. Read about (and go see!) FIGHT CHURCH, a documentary about pastors who run fight clubs. Or check out Tamale, a short that features a piñata (played by a dog) as a main character. Or get creeped out by Borgman, a dark feature drama. Or…well, the list is too long to include here. But you get the idea: Go to Sidewalk. There will be parties, Q & A panels, and food trucks. There will be filmmakers of all shapes and sizes, including those who have won Academy Awards and those who would like to. And there will be the viewers, for whom, after all, the films are made.

 

FIGHT CHURCH

FIGHT CHURCH

FIGHT CHURCH

FIGHT CHURCH is a feature documentary from Academy-Award-winning director Daniel Junge (Saving Face) and director Bryan Storkel (Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians), alongside producers Eben Kostbar and Joseph McKelheer (The Hammer), about the confluence of Christianity and mixed martial arts. The film follows several pastors and fighters in a quest to reconcile their faith with a sport that some consider violent and barbaric. The goal of FIGHT CHURCH is to tell this story in a completely objective tone, and to let the story speak for itself, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions about the connections between religion and condoned violence. Additionally, it serves as a platform on which conversations about the growing popularity of mixed martial arts in the U.S. and religion can stand. Ultimately, it asks this question: Can you really love your neighbor and then punch him in the face?

The documentary was born when Kostbar met Paul Burress, who became the main character. Burress was assisting in training actors for fighting in The Hammer, and he happened to mention that he was also a pastor. It turns out that Burress was not just a fighter, but that he led a fight club inside his church. “When we heard there was a fighting pastor, we jumped on the idea for the documentary. It just seemed like the perfect combination. You have two things that aren’t supposed to go together (Christianity and fighting), and we knew it would make for an interesting film,” Storkel explains. He says that initially, he had his own reservations about the fighting in general and was perplexed by the juxtaposition Burress and the others presented. “When I came into this, I didn’t really like the sport and viewed it as a bit barbaric,” Storkel admits. “After spending a ton of time with these guys, I’m able to see all the hard work and discipline that goes into it. I learned to respect the fighters…. I still don’t personally like watching it, but I can appreciate what they do a little more.”

For the people in the film, much of the purpose behind combining Christianity and fighting is to appeal to people who wouldn’t be attracted to a normal religious environment—a “meet them where they are” approach. As one man explains in the film, “Tough guys need Jesus, too.”

Storkel explains that they feel that they are using their God-given gifts for God’s glory. “By targeting the fight crowd, they feel they are reaching a group of people that wouldn’t normally be reached by the church,” Storkel says. “They hold weekly fight training at their churches and some of them even hold fights there. They love the sport and feel like they want to use something they love to reach people for God. Burress says that if God had made him tall and he was good at basketball, he would use that to reach people. Since he’s short and fighting is all he knows, he figures he’ll use what ‘gifts’ he’s been given for God.

“I think the film is important because the issues of religion and violence are all around us and have been for ages,” he says. “It’s both fascinating and important to pay attention to how they are playing out in the world we live in today. I think the film will get you thinking about these issues and hopefully disturb you a bit and also entertain you.”

Good Morning America called the film “extremely controversial,” and for good reason. There are other religious leaders in the film who challenge the idea that this is an acceptable way to bring people to God and to fellowship with one another. “The tradition of which I’m apart is that we love one another, and this ain’t love,” one says. “Cage fighting does not speak about loving one another. Cage fighting is about hating one another.”  Additionally, FIGHT CHURCH addresses themes like mainstream ideas of masculinity and fear.

Storkel says that this ability to present stories in a way that grips and engages the audience, the way the he hopes FIGHT CHURCH does, is one reason he loves filmmaking. “I don’t know of any other jobs where I could just take off for a year and go follow a story that interests me,” he says. “There’s so much variety in documentary filmmaking as well. Every film is different and offers new life experiences and lessons.” (As a producer, he is also bringing Little Hope Was Arson to Sidewalk this year.)

He says that the whole team is excited to bring FIGHT CHURCH to Birmingham via Sidewalk, which is one of his favorite film festivals. “Sidewalk is near the top of my all-time favorite festivals list,” he says. “The Sidewalk team works so hard to create an amazing environment that is committed filmmakers. You can tell that they love and care about independent film.”

For more information on FIGHT CHURCH and to watch the trailer, visit fightchurchfilm.com.

 

Skanks

Skanks in a One Horse Town played at Theatre Downtown in Birmingham in the winter of 2012. It was a community theatre production that has now been immortalized in a documentary playing this month at Sidewalk Film Festival.

The film Skanks follows the actors and creators from rehearsal through performance and beyond, filming them at work, at their homes, and with their families. The cast of amateur performers bond to form a family of sorts while creating an unconventional show in our conservative southern city.

The film focuses on the lives of four actors, Chuck Duck, Flannery Hooks, Juan Carlos Battle, and Nick Crawford, as well as the playwright Billy Ray Brewton.

Brewton founded Theatre Downtown to produce plays that were edgy or sexually charged. Skanks in a One Horse Town, a musical written by Brewton himself, is about three women, played by men, who accidentally travel from 1978 Studio 54 to 1878 Deep Hole Texas via a disco ball time machine. Along with fellow time travelers Anita Bryant, Conway Twitty, and Meatloaf, the skanks, as the women are called, must stop a local baron from demolishing the town to make room for a new railroad before they return to 1978 and New York City.

“What struck me while making Skanks was the community part of the phrase community theater. The cast and crew of Skanks in a One Horse Town were mostly from towns in Alabama and all outsiders to varying degrees. But the place where they felt they belonged, the insular world the company had created in Birmingham, was progressive and open-minded and welcoming,” says director David McMahon.

“The film is an attempt to examine and understand the power of their community. While shooting and editing the film I was struck by the near universal redemption that theater provided the cast and their attempts to find joy whatever the obstacle. No matter the difficulty with their families of origin, the cast had a surrogate family to support, love, and celebrate them. And they put on a whale of a show,” he says.

McMahon grew up in Birmingham, and his family still lives here.  “I did a lot of community theatre as a kid, which in some ways inspired me to make Skanks. I was an actor for a number of years and have my master’s degree in acting, but a career change led me to co-direct Bayou Blue, my first film, with my friend Alix Lambert. I loved making the movie and found many similarities to acting in terms of basic storytelling. I’ve lived in New York off and on for a number of years but am in Alabama a lot,” McMahon says.

After he finished making Bayou Blue, which is about a serial killer in south Louisiana, McMahon was looking for another project. “I had seen one of Billy Ray Brewton’s original shows a few years earlier and admired his irreverence and humor. A friend suggested that I contact Billy Ray to see about following him through the rehearsal of one of his future shows. The timing worked out well and we started shooting on the first day of Skanks in a One Horse Town rehearsal in November of 2011. I had no agenda when we started shooting but as the weeks passed a story about the importance of community emerged. And I discovered the importance of theatre in the participants’ lives. I’ve said this before, but as religion is to some people in Alabama, as football is to some people in Alabama, theatre is to a lot of the Skanks in a One Horse Town cast,” he says.

To McMahon, the film also has some things to say about Birmingham. “I think the film is sort of a love letter to my hometown. I do think the film shows the diversity of the city, that there are all types of different people and different mindsets. One of the issues that we bumped up against consistently was the effect of religion on cast members, and particularly fundamental Christianity. You see this most at play in the relationship between Chuck Duck and his parents. I wanted to examine this conflict in an honest way and not trivialize it. It was important to me that no one was dehumanized. I think we see people that are tortured over the conflict between their beliefs and family members, and it is ultimately painful to watch.

“I also wonder if a company like Theatre Downtown would exist in a less conservative city. Billy Ray and the cast are rebellious, and they feel like they have something to rebel against. But on the whole the film shows what a vibrant and intelligent artistic community that Birmingham has. Billy Ray doesn’t agree with me on this, but I think his play (which he would say is a silly romp) is actually about the importance of community, and I think the film is about that as well,” McMahon says.

“What has been the most rewarding for me, and this surprised me, was having the cast at some of the screenings. They are rock stars, they are celebrated and beloved, and that is a genuine thrill. They deserve all the accolades they are getting and certainly deserve the credit for the success of the film. They are a tremendously smart and entertaining and funny group of people, and I’m forever grateful to them for their honesty, for letting me film their lives.”

– Written By Joe O’Donnell

 

Don’t Miss These!

 

Borgman

Borgman

Borgman

A dark suburban fable exploring the nature of evil in unexpected places, Borgman follows an enigmatic vagrant who enters the lives of an upper-class family and quickly unravels their carefully curated lifestyle. Charming and mysterious, Camiel Borgman seems almost otherworldly, and it isn’t long before he has the wife, children, and nanny under his spell in a calculated bid to take over their home life. However, his domestic assimilation takes a malevolent turn as his ultimate plan comes to bear, igniting a series of increasingly maddening and menacing events. Borgman’s director is Alex van Warmerdam, and the trailer can be viewed on YouTube.

 

Fred: The Town Dog

Rockford is a small town of only 400 residents located in Coosa County, Alabama. With a county newspaper that is only published once a week, a local law enforcement of only one officer, and a downtown area that consists of only one block, Rockford is in many ways a time capsule. This quintessential southern town has suffered in recent years with many of the town’s shops closing and locals being forced to move elsewhere in search of job opportunities. Yet many characters still live in the town, and in 1993, when a dirty and disheveled dog wandered into town, it was these people who took him in and nursed him back to health. “Fred is a reminder of all the good we have in the South and the amazing people who we are lucky to share our communities with,” says Ava Lowrey, director, producer, and editor of the film. “It’s an uplifting story that also serves as an important document preserving southern small town history.” Visit fredthetowndog.com to view the trailer.

 

Tamale

Tamale is a short film that follows a guy and his sweet pet Tamale, a living, breathing piñata, through a day that starts like any other but ends in a way that will change their lives forever. The film was created—solely and mostly on weekends—by Allan Woodall and Sarah Miller, who met and fell in love while in 2012 while making a film. Lily, the couple’s dog, plays a big role as well. “People should see Tamale because it’s fun, fantastical, and heartwarming,” Woodall says. “Also, it was shot entirely in downtown Birmingham, so [it] features some beautiful and recognizable spots from around our fair city. Last but not least, it’s got a cute piñata puppet in it—something no one’s ever seen at Sidewalk!” Go to tamaleshortfilm.com to find out more.

 

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden, written and directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, is a feature-length, modern-day comedy of errors. The film follows Harper and Allie, two best friends whose journey to the beach becomes much more difficult than it should. “It’s a funny and painful look at the obstacles in their way and the mistakes that they make,” Rogers says. “A lot of the humor in the film comes from examining the cringier aspects of unhealthy friendships and first-world living, and hopefully audiences will take something away from that. As the movie focuses on the follies of young people today, we’ve had people come up to us after screenings and tell us that their kids aren’t far off from Harper and Allie.  So if anything, this movie will remind you to call your children more often.” Visit forttildenthemovie.com to find out more and watch the trailer.

 

1211

1211 is a horror short film made completely without cuts. “I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock’s Rope. There are no cuts in the film, not even hidden ones…zero edits…one take,” says director and producer Drew Hall (with Frame 29 Films). “To pull this off, we had to have the right location.” Hall, along with director Wiatt Cram, decided on the 12th floor of the Admiral Semmes in Mobile, Alabama. “It’s just so creepy and offers a beautifully stark contrast to the antique hotel below it,” Hall says.

“[In the film], BR is waiting for someone and it appears that he’s on promiscuous rendezvous, but he soon finds out that things are a bit more sinister than they seem. If you appreciate cinema and enjoy Hitchcockian elements, then you will love 1211,” Hall says. Find out more at drewdirects.com/#!1211/cr4j.

 

Southern Makers

Southern Makers the documentary was born from a one-day event by the same name celebrating Alabama creativity and innovation. The film highlights the vision and process of four Alabama artists: a chef, a basket maker, a quilter, and a visual artist. Directed by Tyler Jones of 1504 Pictures, Southern Makers is a portrait of the charm and brilliance of distinctly Southern creative impulses. “I made this as a tribute to the men and women who are still so often under-appreciated in their crafts,” Jones says. For more information, visit southernmakers.com/documentary.

 

SIDENOTES

Your Virtual Pocket Guide: 

Want all this info on your smartphone? Grab our mobile web app for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry by bookmarking

http://sidewalkfilmfest2014.sched.org/mobile. The app allows you to build your schedule, see bios of the speakers, see our 2014 sponsors, and stay connected to the social world.

Speaking of the social world, be sure to follow us on your social media networks, and we’ll keep you up-to-the-minute on all things Sidewalk 2014 and beyond.

Facebook.com/sidewalkfilm

Twitter.com/sidewalkfilm

Instagram.com/sidewalkfilm

The hashtag: #sidewalk16

 

Sidewalk Central

Sidewalk Central, in partnership with REV Birmingham, is a free outdoor entertainment and vending area located on Third Avenue North, between 19th and 18th Streets, where you’ll find incredible food options from a variety of vendors; pop-up shops; unique interactive opportunities; Sidewalk merchandise; a Regions Bank ATM; sponsor giveaways; a festival information station; and more!

 

Screening Venues 

Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA)|1800 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd.

Concessions available (beer and wine at Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre only, box office).

Alabama Theatre|1817 3rd Ave. N.

Concessions available (full bar, box office).

Rushton Theatre at McWane Science Center|200 19th St. N. (enter from 3rd Ave. N.)

Red Mountain Theatre Company|301 19th St. N.

Concessions available (full bar, box office).

Carver Theatre|1631 4th Ave. N.

Concessions available (full bar, box office).

 

Other Venues 

Central Ticketing|1817 3rd Ave. N., adjacent to the Alabama Theatre. Purchase and pick up all ticket and pass types here.

Sidetalks Panels and Workshops: Legends Bar| 230 18th St. N.

VIP Lounge: Continental Bakery Downtown|1820 4th Ave. N. (mezzanine level).

Sidewalk Central|3rd Ave. N. between 18th and 19th Streets. Info booth and Sidewalk merchandise.

 

Food

Sidewalk Central Vendors:

(Hours: 10 a.m.–10 p.m.)

Cantina Food Truck

Ferocious Dogs

Newk’s Eatery

NOLA Ice

B&A Catering (Saturday only)

Corretti Catering (Sunday only)

 

Additional Partner Restaurants:

Continental Bakery Downtown|1820 4th Ave. N.

Hours: 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

McWane Science Center Food Court|200 19th  St. N. (main entrance)

Hours: 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. on Saturday;

1 p.m.–4:30 p.m. Sunday

 

Food vending options are also along the 4th Ave. N. Business District/Taste of 4th Ave. Jazz Festival, a free annual jazz festival.

 

Tram Stops & Routes 

The tram will run on 19th St. N. between 3rd Ave. N. and Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. (8th Ave. N.), making stops on 3rd, 4th, and 8th.

Walking Routes 

Alabama Theatre to Carver Theatre: 5 minutes

Alabama Theatre to ASFA: 12 minutes

Alabama Theatre to CBD: 3 minutes

ASFA to Carver: 12 minutes

 

Parties

Thursday, August 21

Filmmaker Kick-Off Reception

5:30–8:30 p.m.

Historic Rucker Place

***VIP ONLY***

Sponsored by the Historic Rucker Place, Savoie Catering, and SAGIndie.

 

Filmmaker After Party

8:30 p.m.–?

Carrigan’s Public House

Open to all|No cover

 

Friday, August 22

Opening Night Red Hot & Hot Carpet Reception

5–7 p.m.

The Rooftop at Kress Building

***VIP ONLY***

Sponsored by Hot & Hot Fish Club, Regions Bank, Wiggins Childs Quinn & Pantazis, and Avia Valet.

 

Downhome Downtown Opening Night After Party 

Immediately following the

opening night film

Third Ave North

Open to all VIP, Weekend Pass, and Opening Night Passes

Sponsored by Regions Bank

 

My Super Sweet 16 

Saturday Night Bash

9 p.m.–1 a.m.

Vulcan Park

Open to all VIP and Saturday Night ticketholders

Sponsored by Papa John’s Pizza

 

Sidewalk Awards Celebration

9–10:30 p.m.

Alabama Theatre

Open to all|No ticket required

 

For more information and to get tickets, visit sidewalkfest.com. And this year you can plan your Sidewalk tour in advance using the Sidewalk web app on Android, Blackberry, and iPhone smartphones.

Bookmark sidewalkfilmfest2014.sched.org/mobile to get started.

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