Sidewalk continues to be a ‘precious breath of fresh air’
Posted on Aug 29, 2012 in Features
Hello there, Sidewalk Film Festival. Has Birmingham told you how much we love you? Amidst all the retrogressive controversy that never seems to leave our region of the country, you are a precious breath of fresh air. You give a bit of art and culture to our little city each year. When else can we see a plethora of independent films? And oh, the enormous lines of people outside of the theaters! Only a few events bring out the crowds in Birmingham, and this is definitely one of them.
Sidewalk kicked off on Friday night at the Alabama Theatre with an introduction from the festival’s board and president and co-founder, Alan Hunter. The charismatic former DJ took the stage about 15 minutes after 8 p.m. Despite festivities starting a tad tardy-ish, he still heckled a few late comers and made fun of the jam band Phish (who played at the Oak Mountain Amphitheater the same night). City Council member Johnathan Austin also spoke and thanked the staff and all those that worked so hard to keep the festival going in our city. Sidewalk executive director Chloe Collins named all the sponsors and brought out a huge number of volunteers onstage.
The first film to be screened was “Supporting Characters.” It was described as a “buddy comedy,” but I’d say it was more of a realistic dysfunctional romantic comedy. “Supporting Characters” was directed by Dan Schechter, who co-wrote the film with star Tarik Lowe. The film also starred Alex Karpovsky who some of you might recognize from HBO’s Girls.
“Supporting Characters” at first glance is the story of two editors working on a film in need of repair. It goes deeper into the lives of the editors, their friendships and fraying romantic relationships.
The film doesn’t pull punches, but isn’t that the staple of all independent films? It was entertaining, I gave it a B on my rating card. However, if the movie focused more on Tarik Lowe and the movie’s sweet little dog Pizza (isn’t that a precious name for a dog?) I would have given it an A. But then it wouldn’t have been the same message, would it?
On Saturday, I had my adorability in cinema needs met when I started off the day viewing the Kids Shorts at McWane Center. To my surprise, the science theater held more adults than children. The audience was told that these nine short films were chosen out of 600 submissions. These were no fart joke infused Nickelodeon rejects, either. Each film had something delightful to it, from the absurdly silly animated music video called Ills to the time traveling science fudged Test Subject B. One short film was made in Birmingham, Barney and the Martians, about an old man who pretends an old ham radio can talk to aliens. This may have lead to sentimental scrawlings such as “I want to be like him when I grow up” in one note taker’s book. All in all, these Kids Shorts provided some much desired heart warming and imaginative entertainment. A feeling I kept with me until I stepped into the muggy afternoon weather.
Next on the itinerary was Gayby, a comedy about a straight woman and her gay best friend trying to conceive a baby together. It was appropriately presented by Birmingham Shout, a gay and lesbian film festival collaborating with Sidewalk, purple carpet laid out and all. What can one say about Gayby? It was wonderfully hilarious with a side tenderness and wet-paint-yoga-sex on top. While structured like a romantic comedy, it plays out much more realistically, avoiding the conventional twists a lot of viewers (myself included) might fear upon a casual summary reading. Thank you, director/writer/co-star Jonathan Lisecki for not pulling a Knocked Up!
My Sidewalk Saturday concluded with a local documentary called Eating Alabama. Shot by Andy Grace, a University of Alabama professor of documentary film, Eating Alabama shows the year long challenge undertaken by Grace himself and his wife Rashmi of eating only foods grown in our state. Sounds easy-ish, right? Not really. Through out the film, the two discover that local farming has declined over the past few decades, and only a few people in Alabama keep the tradition alive. The couple live up to their challenge, making their own punk rock veggie garden, befriending a few remaining farmers, and even resort to hunting for their meat at one point. Eating Alabama also shares the history of farming in our state and how it mostly morphed into suburbia and chain grocery stores as time went on. Though a little saddening at times (it actually shows the slaughtering of chickens!), the film was quite enjoyable and gave off quite the fuzzy community vibe. Anyone who doesn’t want to have a harvest supper with a table full of friends after seeing this movie wasn’t paying enough attention.
Tomorrow holds even more to be enjoyed. A documentary about women wrestlers, a chance to meet Thora Birch, and closing the night out with Fat Kid Rules the World. Even with my hurried note taking, I found Sidewalk pleasurable, as always. The beloved Birmingham tradition really delivered this year.