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By Eric Campos | October 8, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007
And the festival has finally begun. “Strictly Background” had a late morning screening, a documentary that I’ve seen a few times now, mostly due to the magnetic charm of its subjects – movie extras having to endure the daily grind of hustling up background acting work. Quirky personalities all of them, a filmmaker could have taken the easy road and simply poked fun at their eccentricities. Instead it’s evident that time and care went into this film and its subjects and their eccentricities aren’t made fun of, they’re celebrated. Highly recommended.

“August the First” has us sit ringside for a family get-together… or a family meltdown rather. Tunde Ibirinde is celebrating his college graduation and in doing so, he invites his father to the party. Problem is, Dad split on the family years ago to head out to Nigeria where he started a new family. His sudden appearance after a ten year absence is more than unwelcome and it shakes apart the family until dirty secrets, lies and ulterior motives ooze out of the cracks. Engaging drama packed with raw emotion. We gave it the Best First Feature Award.

“Hannah Takes the Stairs” is sure to please Joe Swanberg fans as you get exactly what you want – real-life quirky characters getting themselves in awkward relationship tangles. And, yes, there’s plenty of full-frontal nudity, too. Greta Gerwig plays the lovable title character who starts the film off by breaking up with her boyfriend, played by Mark Duplass. She then goes on to lead a couple of her male co-workers to chase after her, played by Andrew Bujalski and Kent Osborne, and they both stumble over each other vying for her attention. If you’ve ever been in competition for a girl, this film nails that situation so well that your balls will ache and hair will grown on your palms.

“Low and Behold” came right out of nowhere and knocked me on my a*s so hard that I and my fellow jurors couldn’t help but give it the Best Feature and Best Director awards at this year’s festival. It’s a narrative/documentary hybrid that sees insurance claim adjusters set up shop in Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Our main character is Turner Stull who’s a newbie to the whole claim adjusting scene. We follow him around the devasted city as he gets bullied by the locals who just want what they feel is coming to them. Fortunately for Turner, he comes across a mysterious man, Nixon, who simply wants help finding his dog. In turn, he’ll help Turner with his work, minimizing volatile situations. So, that’s all the narrative portion of the film, the documentary aspect comes from Turner going around and actually talking to real New Orleans natives who have had their homes and their lives torn apart by the hurricane. It’s an amazing way to add even more depth to this already emotionally well-rounded film that will keep you engaged hours after it’s ended. A truly great movie boasting a lovable cast who take the audience from warm comedic moments to heart-breaking tragedy with ease. It all blends together perfectly and it’s a film that you need to see! One of my top favorites this year.

“Murder Party” kicked off the evening’s theme of ghoulish screenings and is a new Halloween season favorite of mine. Right up there with “Kenny & Company” and “Hellbent,” I will be watching “Murder Party” every October. This horror/comedy finds a bunch of douchebag art students kidnapping a lonely meter maid in the hopes of slaughtering him as part of some grand art project that will land them a shitload of grant money. What’s unique about the film is how much character build up there is before the actual murdering begins…and it’s done so well that the movie doesn’t drag while you’re waiting for the red stuff to spill. It’s a unique slaughterthon and that’s why we gave Jeremy Saulnier the Filmmaker to Watch Award. I really can’t wait to see what he does next.

“Blood Car” is another big festival favorite of mine. The set-up is totally ridonkulous, but relevant – gas prices have sky-rocketed so high that nobody can afford to drive. Enter a grade school teacher who’s experimenting with alternative fuel sources and finds that he can successfully gas his car up with blood which soon finds him embarking on a string of murders, which is all the more difficult for him because he’s a vegan. It’s more humor than horror here and it’s incredibly crass, but you get that there’s a brain behind all of the toilet humor. It’s like when Mike Judge was doing “Beavis and Butthead,” it’s some of the stupidest s**t around, but it’s done so well by a really intelligent guy that it’s set apart from other mindless garbage out there. “Blood Car” is similar, jam packed with potty humor…for smart people.

“Dirty Country” has been a long-time coming and it makes me realize that I’ve been writing about movies seemingly forever and it makes my balls feel old. This documentary on the legendary dirty country singer Larry Pierce comes to us from a couple of my favorite guys on the planet – Found Footage Festival curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher. I saw a promo they had put together of this doc a few years ago and I commented on this site that I couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Well, it’s finally done and festival audiences are learning the finer points of f*****g from the country’s premiere filthy singer/songwriter. A really fun and entertaining doc that shouldn’t be missed when it “blows” through your town.

The Local Horror Shorts Block is a must-see attraction for me because if it’s one thing I’m certain of, Alabama is a well-spring of up and coming talent and a lot of these filmmakers are totally into horror. I caught this shorts block last year and couldn’t pass up catching it again…especially being that Amanda’s in two of the shorts. “See You Again” kicked off the block with a brutal little revenge tale from Darryl Merpaw that should make you ashamed of the human race. Job well done! Then came “The Craving”, a werewolf flick from Kenneth Hurd and the Death By Flypaper crew. My baby plays a werewolf. I’m very proud. Due to emergency nicotine intake we had to miss the next short which was Clint Till’s “Collection”. Following that was a film called “Forgiven” featuring a lonely woman, obviously wrought with grief, receiving mysterious presents at her doorstep. All in all, not exactly horror, but there’s some blood in it, so okay. Last up was “Darkness on the Edge of Town” from Drew Brown and Billy Ray Brewton, a film so over-the-top goofy that you can’t help but enjoy it. It features a group of people holing themselves up in a house as a weird black cloud approaches. Is it the end of the world? Mmm…could be…

Saves Jesus
So, there was that thing earlier when I mentioned that I found Jesus. Remember when that happened? Mmkay, good. There was a documentary playing the festival called “The Jesus Guy” and it’s about a guy, dressed like Jesus, wandering the Earth preaching the Word of God… and he currently lives in Alabama. This doc tells his story. I haven’t seen it yet, but I met the filmmaker at the festival and I will be seeing it soon. More on that at a later time.

So after catching the horror shorts block and grabbing some McDonald’s (cuz Ronald is the coolest!) we headed over to that night’s swingin’ bash only to find the Jesus Guy, lookin’ very much like the one and only Christ, having trouble at the door as the doorman wouldn’t let him in without shoes. Mind you, this doorman was working for the venue, he had nothing to do with the festival. So we saw Jesus Guy get rejected from the party and called him over. He was disappointed about being turned away, but was in good spirits. And understandably so – he’s the Jesus Guy. He can’t be “f**k those guys” about it. He did say, though, that he had sandals at the hotel. Hearing this we decided that for once we would save Jesus and drove him to the hotel to get his footwear. It was an interesting ride. He’s a very kind, cool person who’s intensely fascinated with who you are. He asked, “So what’s going on with you guys?” We answered briefly by telling him what we’d been up to lately. He then asked, “What’s going on with you spiritually?”

Okay, that was a new one. I’ve never been asked how I was doing spiritually and I had never planned on being asked. Then again, I never pictured myself sitting in the backseat of a car with Jesus riding shotgun. So I was opening to new experiences. However, there was still the matter of this question, which I really didn’t know how to answer. So instead of hanging my head and replying with a dopey “I dunno,” I simply mentioned how happy I was in my current life situation and that I was in love with my Lady. That’s good, right? It got me in and out of that question rather quickly anyway.

The rest of our conversation was very casual. He’s a very mellow and intelligent guy. Not a weirdo at all. And he doesn’t think he’s Jesus. He just looks like him and he wanders around spreading the Good Word. In asking why he didn’t use his Jesus look to pressure the doorman into letting him into the party, he said, “I already have trouble with people thinking I have delusions of grandeur.”

In all of my festival travels, there have been a few parties that I could not gain admittance to. It happens. But I got into this party. And I brought Jesus with me.

Sunday, September 30, 2007
Movies, movies and more movies… the story of my life.

“Park” is a cute little ensemble comedy starring William Baldwin, Ricki Lake and Cheri Oteri. A bunch of people converge upon a car park in Los Angeles during lunch hour one afternoon and they bring all their problems with them. Hell breaks loose and comedic situations follow. It’s very light, somewhat amusing fare. It’s something you’ll wind up seeing on Comedy Central soon, I’m sure.

“True Love” provides us with a few intertwining love stories in Los Angeles. But not the normal horseshit fairy tales we’re accustomed to seeing. This is love shown how it often is – difficult. Uncomfortable to watch at times, but you can’t help but be drawn in by the talented cast.

“Last Stop for Paul” is adventure filmmaking at its finest. Kind of like an old school mondo movie, this feature is an eye-opening expererience of new and exciting culture as two buddies travel the world spreading the ashes of a dead friend along the way. It’s an amazing journey and we were proud to give it the Original Vision Award.

The awards ceremony took place at Workplay later that evening, an exciting, but sad event, too. Sad because it marks the festival coming to a close and this evening would be the last we would be able to grab each other’s a***s…until next year at least.

And the award winners:

Narrative Features
Filmmaker to Watch: “Murder Party”

Original Vision: “Last Stop for Paul”

Best First Feature: “August the First”

Best Director: “Low and Behold”

Best Narrative Feature ($1,000): “Low and Behold”

Special Jury Award: “Join Us”

Best Student Doc: “A Street Divided”

Best Short Documentary: “Salim Baba”

Best Documentary Feature ($1,000): “Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life”

Short Films
Special Jury Award for Brilliance in Animation: “Their Circumstances”

Special Jury Directing Award: “Archer House”

Special Jury Award for Brilliance in Imagery: “Help is Coming”

Kathryn Tucker Windham Storytelling Award: “A Death in the Woods”

Best Alabama Short Film: “I’m Nostalgic”

Best Student Film:
2nd Place: “Heartburn”
1st Place: “Caress of the Creature”

Best Animated Film (includes $500): “Everything Will Be OK”

Best Short Film ($1,000): “Pop Foul”

Alabama Citations of Excellence (ACE) Awards:
Excellence in Storytelling: “Asclepius Fandango”

Excellence in Imagery: “Modern Plays: the Music Video”

Excellence in Directing: “Cup of Joe”

Excellence in Originality: “Lunch with Lincoln”

Excellence in Comedy: “Lunch”

Excellence in Comedy Writing: “The Little Things”

Excellence in Acting: “Tallie Medel (I’m Nostalgic)”

Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking: “Dick-George, Tenn-Tom”

Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking: “Speaking Without Speaking”

Audience Choice
Alabama Film: “Overflow”

Short Film: “Deface”

Documentary Feature: “Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life”

Narrative Feature: “American Fork”

Production Prize: “Face Value” by Julie Pritt

Grand Prize: “Self-Addressed” by James Pihakis

2nd place: “Stuck” by Susan C. McCain

And so the festival came to an end and it was a success. Theaters were packed, I didn’t see anyone cry and, as always, Birmingham newbies filled the night sky with drunken cries of “I FUCKIN’ LOVE THIS PLACE!” It never fails. The Birmingham charm and high class, yet easy going, nature of Sidewalk will bring any hardened film festival journeyman to their knees. It was sad not to have Erik Jambor around, but I believe that he can take solace in that Sidewalk is in able hands and that it is very much alive and well. Another face sorely missed was that of Kelly Marshall, a very dear friend of mine who always played a huge part in my enjoyment of Birmingham. Many others echoed that sentiment throughout the weekend as well. It’s hard to see good friends go, but what’s important for the Birmingham film community, as well as indie filmmakers everywhere, is that a festival like Sidewalk continues to exist. And it shall. This year’s event proved that. Sidewalk continues to be one of the top places to see great films and make great friends. And if you’re lucky, the movies and friendships are so strong that they’ll stay with you forever. It happens. I know.

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