It was going to be an interesting festival. Regular readers of Film Threat, as well as indie filmmakers and film lovers, know the notoriety the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival name carries. Chris Gore named it one of the “Best Vacation Film Festivals” in his Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, I have done my fair share of love spewage upon the altar of Sidewalk and TIME Magazine recently dubbed the event as one of their “Film Festivals for the Rest of Us.” And let’s not forget the numerous filmmakers who visit the festival only to become Birmingham, Alabama devotees. Yes, if you ever run into anyone that’s spent time on the Sidewalk, you’ll catch an earful of warm fuzzy words and rainbows. So it’s safe to say that the festival is plenty interesting every year. This year would be no different.
Those in the indie film world heard about Sidewalk co-founder Erik Jambor’s resignation as festival director late last year, and they feared for the festival’s life. Festival directors come and go, but these departures are rarely surrounded by such hand wringing and outcry as Erik’s exit was. He was more than a faceless festival head – Erik Jambor is a filmmaker and lover of cinema and he made himself present all throughout the festival to meet and greet moviemakers and audience members alike. Many fell in love with the man and his festival, so panicked cries of “THE SKY IS FALLING!” came as no surprise. To a lot of people, it was as if the heart and soul of the festival had been extracted.
Cut to late this past summer and Sidewalk wasn’t only alive, but it had sprouted a brand new line-up of films for this year’s festival, running September 28-30, now under the command of former Sidewalk Operations Director Catherine Pfitzer who was appointed Executive Director of the festival. Shortly after the line-up was announced, an invite to attend the festival once again as a jury member came directly from Catherine. Somewhere within my last few years of Sidewalk attendance did the event dig its teeth into me and now every September I hunger to go back to dear old Birmingham, Alabama. Actually, that probably happened right after my first visit. I couldn’t resist the offer and I gladly accepted. I also needed to see how the festival survived its major transition. The program of films looked top-notch and they had enough good taste to ask me back, so things were definitely off to a good start. Joining me on the features jury would be Amy Dotson, Producer and Managing Director of Programming for IFP and Rosanne Korenberg, feature film producer, producer’s rep and consultant.
Not only would the festival’s change in leadership make for an interesting event this year, but now I also have a girlfriend, local actress Amanda Myers, who currently lives in Birmingham, but will be making the move to Los Angeles in a few months to live with yours truly. Yes, kiddos, it’s serious. So that makes for a new festival experience for me. No more running around all night long, getting smashed and waking up… wherever. I was in hardcore boyfriend mode this festival and was ready to take on this program of films as a features jury member with a clear head. Crazy talk, I know, and if you think that’s frightening, I even found (gasp!) Jesus. But more on that later…
Thursday, September 27, 2007
In order to make the pre-opening night party every year, I’ve always scheduled an early Thursday morning flight, which gets me into Birmingham mid-afternoon. This year was no different, which meant that, once again, I would forego sleep and spend the entire evening before packing, doing some website work and praying to the party Gods that I would not, through intake of a ridiculous amount of good times, suddenly become nude mid-festival and tear through the streets of Birmingham with my giddles on display. Laugh if you will, but such prayer has kept me out of some of the finer jails this country has to offer.
My first chance to catch a teeny bit of a nap came at the Burbank airport as I awaited my short flight to Vegas from which I would catch my connecting flight to Birmingham. Actually, I caught more than a teeny nap as I awoke with a start to find that most of my plane had already boarded. Deciding that missing my flight would make for a s**t way to start off the festival, I hustled my a*s in line, now looking rather lopsided from being woken about thirty minutes into from what would’ve made for a great 10 hour snooze.
As I reached the front of the line, the ticket taker person mentioned my name and the woman behind me piped up and said hello. I turned to find the one and only Heidi Van Lier who had written a blog for Film Threat in 2006 detailing her adventures in Park City as her film “Monday” was screening at Slamdance. I had never met Heidi, not face to face anyway, so when I turned and saw her, I recognized her from her Myspace profile picture. Okay, you may think Myspace is lame, but it’s definitely handy in situations such as this. Heidi was also on her way to Birmingham as she was on the Sidewalk short films jury. Through my sleepy haze I did my best to quickly convey my pleasure in finally meeting her before we boarded the plane. I looked forward to talking more with her throughout the weekend, but this sadly didn’t really happen until our flight back from Vegas to Burbank where we were seated together and were able to get to know each other. Best plane flight conversation ever… apart from the time Gore and I sat next to Mel Stuart and he gave us dirt on all the kids from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”
Having only about 45 minutes until I needed to board my flight from Vegas to Birmingham, I did what any other sleep deprived movie nerd on his way to a film festival would do – I hit the bar and drank an enormous mug of beer. I believe it was a 40 ouncer, perhaps more, as it took the strength of a true boozeman to raise the bathtub posing as a beer mug to my lips without having my arm tremble. And so, boarding my flight with a manly buzz, I was able to get a little sleep on my way into Birmingham, but not before meeting filmmaker Jason Connell and his DP Bryan Storkell. These guys made my favorite doc of the year – “Strictly Background.” I saw this highly charming film about movie extras a couple of months before it was even announced that it would play Sidewalk as it was passed my way by the Dominion 3 public relations Goddesses. I was excited to learn Jason and Bryan were sitting next to me on my flight and that they would tell me stories which would kind of make for my very own personal movie commentary. Then, it was time to get some fuckin’ sleep.
It’s the little things of any certain experience that I truly adore, so every time I go to Sidewalk I love seeing that first familiar face. This year it was local filmmaker Chance Shirley who is currently in production on his sci-fi flick “Interplanetary.” He was pitching in and helping pick up festival guests at the airport. The festival didn’t officially start till Friday night, but right then and there at the airport was when Sidewalk ’07 began for me. Then Amanda showed up and everything was perfect.
Mansion party! WOOT! As was the case last year, the Thursday night pre-opening night party took place at a massive private residence – plenty of room for people to wander and get to know each other. You never know who you’re going to run into. As Amanda and I were stuffing our faces towards the back of the house, a couple guys came over and began festival talk… one of them introduced himself as a Jambor! Whoah, it was Erik’s dad! Accompanying him was Erik’s uncle. If I had met any of the Jambor family in the past, it was very brief, so it was a pleasure, nay, honor, to actually sit and talk with them for a while. We of course talked about Erik for a bit, which prompted his dad to call up Erik and hand me the phone. Before accepting the phone I wondered aloud if this was appropriate. You know, one could see how that might be a little awkward. But I talked to Erik and it was cool. I got my Jambor interaction in without him even being at the festival Score!
The party would continue on into the night at a different location, but not for us. Lack of proper rest and the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in three months, meant that it was sleepy time for Eric and Amanda. I was leaving the all-night party animal torch for someone else to claim. From what I heard at festival’s end, someone did take that torch and they ran with it like a m**********r. Makes me so proud I’m getting all misty-eyed here.
Friday, September 28, 2007
The day began with business as usual with a meet and greet filmmaker brunch. This year, however, it was at the Botanical Gardens, which meant that I would miss out on gazing at Vulcan’s sweet a*s. If you don’t know what Vulcan is, then you need to take a trip to Birmingham and find out – a pair of a*s cheeks you could just die between.
Tradition, as I’ve known it, has been to take everyone over to Sloss Furnaces after brunch for an iron pouring afternoon where guests get to make their own chunks of iron art that the airport so loves to see in your bag. It’s a great way to bond with everyone before the actual festival begins that evening with the opening night film. This year, many went off to Sloss for some hot, sweaty iron pouring, while others stayed behind to wander the gardens. There was even another group that went off to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Basically it was a choose-your-own-adventure afternoon field trip.
Later that evening, a rooftop party preceded the opening night film. It’s a special event for me because it was at this party, on this rooftop, a year ago, that I first met Amanda. Trying to put personal mushiness aside, everyone else was feeling good, too. And that’s part of the kickassery of this festival – it’s so perfectly planned out that by the time you get to the opening night movie, you’ve gotten to know people and hopefully have begun to make friends. Everyone’s doing alright, so if you happen to pull your c**k out and put it in the mashed potatoes… f**k it, everyone knows you’re cool.
With that being said, the opening night movie was David Wain’s “The Ten.” Fans of the MTV sketch comedy show “The State”, I’m sure, will and have s**t themselves as this film resembles very much what Wain and his co-horts did back way back when. Cut up into ten sketches, each sketch resembles one of God’s commandments and through some majorly ridiculous events, shows what ill could come to you if you were to disobey. For acquired tastes only as you really, really need to be down with overly goofy humor to find anything here funny. I’m a goofball, so I dug it, even though I did find it to be a little hit or miss. I think it’s a film that will get better at home on DVD… especially if they supply the extra farts… c’mon, guys, you can do this!
The festival gets under way in part two of SIDEWALK 2007: A NEW HOPE>>>