EARTH, WIND & SIDEWALK: THE 2006 COLLECTION Image

Recently, September has become my favorite time of year…even more so than October. The hot, miserable summer is finally giving way to a slightly cooler fall, the anticipation of Halloween is more exciting than the actual day itself, another season of “Nip/Tuck” is beginning and there’s a film festival in Birmingham, Alabama called the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Yes, it was my third year at Sidewalk and once again I was on the festival jury, documentaries this time, a nice change of pace from dreary old narrative features. Joining me on the docs jury were old Sidewalk friends Skizz Cyzyk and Peter Gilbert. Skizz is a filmmaker, musician and founder/festival director for MicroCineFest and the programming manager for the Maryland Film Festival…among other things. Peter is a filmmaker whose producing and cinematography credits include “Hoop Dreams,” “Stevie” and “With All Deliberate Speed.” Unfortunately, it turned out last minute that Peter was unable to attend the festival, so it was Skizz and I on the festival frontlines while Peter watched the films from afar. Despite missing my friend, perhaps this arrangement worked out for the best. Maybe a festival jury this awesome should never be in one place at the same time – kinda like putting the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper together. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria. You can thank us for spraring your world later.

As usual, I get to Birmingham a day early. The festival really doesn’t get started till Friday night, but they like to have everyone come in on Thursday for a pre-opening night party. It lets everyone casually mingle before the films start rolling. This year, the Thursday night party was held at some monstrous house owned by a local attorney, I believe. It was a perfect spot for the first night meet and greet, plenty of places to wander and hang out, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Actually, I met a lot of people that night while waiting in line for the restroom as that’s where I was located for a good part of the evening. What can I say? I have a spastic bladder. It really sucks at rodeos.

Besides all of the drinking and smoking the evening before, I was up bright and early Friday morning for the filmmaker breakfast at Vulcan Park, home of the world’s largest cast iron statue…that happens to have nice buns, too. Not trying to be profane, but you really can’t help but stare in awe. Vulcan has a nice a*s!

The breakfast was more of a formal meet and greet with everyone introducing themselves and their films. The names all finally got faces, our hangovers were soaked up by food and when it was all said and done, old man Campos went back to his hotel room for a nap while all the other kids went off to pour iron souvenirs at Sloss Furnaces. Don’t want to sound like a party pooper, but being that I had taken part in the iron pour trip previously and the outlook of me getting any sleep for the remainder of the weekend wasn’t very promising, I figured I would take this opportunity to take a snooze…and watch some really bad reality horseshit on MTV.

“Sasquatch Dumpling Gang” was the opening night movie of the festival, a film I had been wanting to see since I missed it at Slamdance this last January. I’ve heard a lot of great things since and many of them turned out true. Made by some of the “Napoleon Dynamite” crew, “Sasquatch” is another movie about goofy teens being goofy teens. Add Carl Weathers as a Sasquatch Hunter and you have a party. Fun movie that’s not as cartoony as “Napoleon Dynamite,” but rooted a little more in reality. It’s more like Don Coscarelli’s “Kenny & Company” than anything else.

More partying after the flick that went way into the wee hours of the morning, broken up only by an emergency mission for bananas and Redbull with my new favorite person. Probably only got about an hour and a half of sleep before waking up five minutes before my jury breakfast that was fortunately located in the hotel I was staying. Stumbled downstairs, grabbed breakfast and my jury info and then I was off to see movies. The festival had begun.

The program this year was absolutely amazing, at least from what I could tell it was, and from what I heard from other people. I missed a lot of the narrative features due to having to see all of the docs for my jury duty, which was awesome, it’s just that when you’re faced with such an impressive line-up of movies, you get greedy and want to see everything. I’m a movie piglet.

Included in the documentary line-up were: “10 MPH,” a film that follows Josh Caldwell as he rides a Segway across town. A Segway is one of those lame a*s motorized walkers that allow people to be lazier than they already are. It’s an interesting road trip movie with an excellent, inspiring message to get up off your a*s and get out there and do something; “DANIELSON: A FAMILY MOVIE” explores the musical world of Daniel Smith and his siblings as they form a band, The Danielson Famile, and become underground indie darlings with their own unique brand of Christian rock. Yes, Christian rock! Rockin’ for Christ! And you know what? The music is really, really good. It’s undeniably infectious and never too preachy, just like this film that explores the life of this band and its eccentric leader Daniel Smith. Not your average every day music doc loaded down with talking heads, “Danielson: A Family Movie” draws you into this bizarre musical experience with performance footage and experimental cinema; “DARKON” is a soaring action adventure tale of a horde of daring…nerds who dress up in armor and battle each other in the park. Darkon is one of the biggest live action role playing games in the world and its players live, breathe and eat the roles they play in the game. The film folds you into their passion and you can’t help but cheer along as they smack the s**t out of each other with their homemade weapons; “JAM” details the struggle of the American Roller Derby League to stay alive in the face of lack of interest and shady dealings. The film focuses on the last remaining roller derby stars and how they’re grasping onto this fading pasttime as it’s the only thing that gives them the strength to live through their own daily personal hell; “TIME & TIDE” gives us a front row seat to the globalization of the island nation of Tuvalu, as well as its inevitable destruction from global warming as the ocean level continues to rise, swallowing the island whole. We join a tour group of expatriatres as they return to Tuvalu after having lived in New Zealand for years only to see their home ravaged by a hungry ocean and western culture. Despite the impending tragedy, “Time & Tide” is a very calm, quiet film, mimicking the peaceful nature of the Tuvalu people, never taking a heavy-handed stance at the soapbox; “THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT,” an infuriating documentary based on the twenty year long battle of a southern black man, Darryl Hunt, struggling to regain his freedom when he’s wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a white female newspaper reporter. The film details the many attempts to prove his innocence, but despite the lack of solid physical evidence pinning him to the crime, the powers that be refuse to let him go.

Besides, the docs, I was able to check out a program of local shorts that were all horror themed, or just plain grim in nature. Standouts included shorts “GAME SHOP,” a little sumthin’ for the videogames nerds out there, and “THE INCREDIBLE FALLING APART MAN,” which features the graphic physical collapse of a man once he’s given up on his life. But there was one short in this program, a little something called “GOLDEN AGE” that owned the evening. I’ve spoken with filmmaker Cullen Carr in the past and our conversations most always turned to old exploitation flicks and our undying love for them and the golden age of sleazy flicks on VHS. Having this background info on Cullen made it all the more pleasing to see that with “Golden Age,” he forged his own exploitation eyeball scorcher…and did it really f*****g well. With this twisted tale of a cult of murderous filmmakers, that’s a little reminiscent of “Last House on Dead End Street,” he’s done the Deodatos and the Lenzis of the world proud.

It was an exciting, yet exhausting two days of movie watching fun, broken up by yet another party at Sloss Furnaces that was something along the lines of Dance Party Alabama. Strong drinks and dancing are aways good times, even if you do get poked in the ribs or kicked in the shins every one in a while. When you’re gettin’ loose, you can’t sweat the physical damage.

Sunday night brought the awards as Sidewalk ended another successful year with its awards ceremony. The big wieners were:

FEATURE FILMS

Best Feature ($1,000 cash award) ^ LOL – directed by Joseph Swanberg

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Best Documentary ($1,000 cash award) ^ THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT – directed by Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg

Best Short Documentary ^ GEOCACHING – directed by Jeff Orlowski & Tessa Banks

Best Student Documentary ^ YARD SALE – directed by Brad Barber

Best Alabama Documentary ^ SHE’S A LADY – directed by Alan Franks

Special Jury Awards ^ TIME & TIDE – directed by Julie Bayer & Josh Salzman ^ DANIELSON – directed by JL Aronson

Special Jury Award for Documentary Cinematography ^ LIVE BURN – directed by Christopher Hilleke

SHORT FILMS

Best Short ($1,000 cash award) ^ VACATIONLAND – directed by by Lance Edmands

Best Animated Film ($500 cash award) ^ COPENHAGEN CYCLES – directed by Eric Dyer

Best Student Film ^ OUR MAN IN NIRVANA – directed by Jan Koester

Best Alabama Film ^ GOUASH – directed by Michael Gordon

Kathryn Tucker Windham Storytelling Award ^ BINTA AND THE GREAT IDEA – directed by Javier Fesser

Film That Matters ^ THE COUNTER – directed by Lauren Wagner

AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARDS

Feature ^ HEAVENS FALL – directed by Terry Green

Documentary ^ THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT – directed by by Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg

Short ^ THORNTON DIAL – directed by Celia Carey

Alabama Short ^ PIECE OF CAKE – directed by Jennifer West

SIDEWRITE 2006

Grand Prize ^ WHEN STANDISH MET STANDOFFISH – by Daniel Ryan O’Donnell

Production Prize ^ PINEVILLE – by David A. Smith

CRAZY 8 FILMMAKING CHALLENGE

Winner ^ UNION JOB – by Sam Frazier, Jr.

TEEN FILMMAKING CHALLENGE

Winner ^ TUBED – by Spencer Lenzie & Ben Westhoven

And then, it was all over. Another festival gone by way too quickly, and as always, nobody was ready to go home and everyone was already talking about next year. I can’t wait for it. I already miss my second family, new members and old.

NOTE: Specific names have been witheld from this story in order to avoid overly mushiness. So in the spirit of keeping it short and sweet – I love you all.

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