As a writer and blogger I live my life surrounded by story. Not only do I read and write stories, but I enjoy watching them on screen, too. I love movies! If you’re a film lover too and based in the Birmingham area, then you’re probably quite excited about the 17th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival, taking place this weekend, Aug. 28-30.
There are so many films showing this weekend that there’s chance you feel overwhelmed by all the festival has to offer.
Fortunately, one of my colleagues at the Alabama School of Fine Arts is also on the Sidewalk Film Festival staff and when I asked him to put together a list of must-see movies he was happy to help.
Corey Craft has written about film since 2009, for five years as the primary film writer for The Tuscaloosa News and now exclusively for the upstart arts and entertainment website artsBHAM.com. He also teaches a history of film class at ASFA and has a degree in telecommunications and film with an emphasis in critical studies from the University of Alabama.
Here are five selections that Corey thinks you’ll enjoy at the 17th annual Sidewalk Film Festival and what he had to say about each film:
- “Welcome to Leith”
Not only one of my favorite films in the Sidewalk lineup, this documentary is one of my favorite films of 2015 so far — but don’t think that means it’s easy to watch. “Welcome to Leith” charts the invasion of a small North Dakota town by white supremacists, seeking to buy up as much land as possible and transform the sleepy little burg into a haven for the politically like-minded. Tensions rise between the few residents of Leith and their new neighbors, all shot in a you-are-there style by its brave filmmakers. This is an important, terrifying movie that reinforces, particularly after a year that has seen plenty of racially-motivated violence, that America’s past legacy of hate is still very, very present.
Screening at 3:10 p.m. at Red Mountain Theatre Company and 9:45 p.m. at the Birmingham Museum of Art on Saturday, Aug. 29.
- “Queen of Earth”
A terrific psychological thriller with overtones of dark comedy, “Queen of Earth” features two outstanding lead performances in its ice-cold story about two codependent friends struggling as one of them teeters toward complete mental collapse. This is maybe the best performance its star, Elisabeth Moss of TV’s “Mad Men,” has given in a film to date, and her co-lead, Katherine Waterston, more than realizes the promise she showed as a drugged-out femme fatale in last year’s “Inherent Vice.” This isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes — it’s mean, if not outright misanthropic — but it creates an astounding tension that’ll hold you in its grip from start to finish.
Screening at 7:10 p.m. at the ASFA Black Box Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 30.
- “Do I Sound Gay?”
After a breakup, filmmaker David Thorpe sets out on an unusual odyssey to discover the origins of the stereotypical gay male voice in this funny, fascinating documentary. Dissatisfied with his own voice, Thorpe interviews prominent gay writers and performers — including Dan Savage, George Takei and David Sedaris — and a number of speech therapists and pathologists to examine the societal forces that have led to one certain sound being thought of as traditionally gay. “Do I Sound Gay?” is insightful and amusing, a film sure to be of interest to anyone interested in contemporary cultural studies.
Screening at 2:15 p.m. at the Carver Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 29.
- Saturday Sidewalk Shorts
I worked this year for Sidewalk as the short films co-programmer, so I would say that if you attend any of our short films blocks, you’re in for a treat. But I’ll highlight the Saturday Sidewalk Shorts block as being representative of the variety of excellent films we have throughout the weekend. This has a really satisfying mixture of films that will appeal to all tastes: you’ll see “Enfilade,” a visually stunning science fiction short from Australia; the dark comedy “Contact,” about an optometrist seeking revenge on an old rival; the action romantic comedy “Hotwire,” in which a man flips between fantasy and reality on the eve of losing the love of his life; and “One Night in Aberdeen,” a sweet comedy-drama about two lonely souls meeting in the bar of a Super 8 on August 8, 2008.
Screening at 10:30 a.m. at the ASFA Black Box Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 29.
- “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made”
This year’s opening night film is one of the biggest crowdpleasers Sidewalk has ever brought and a true testament to the power of cinema. It’s a documentary about a group of Mississippi teenagers who, having their minds blown by Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the early 1980s, set out to make their own version of the first Indiana Jones adventure — shot for shot. The film’s only half the fun on opening night; Sidewalk is hosting an Indiana Jones costume contest, and after the film moviegoers can walk right outside the Alabama Theatre to a massive opening night block party on Third Avenue North with free food, drinks, music and more Indiana Jones-themed surprises. You won’t want to miss it.
Screening at 8 p.m. at the Alabama Theatre on Friday, Aug. 28.
Check out the rest of the schedule and purchase tickets and passes to the films, parties, panels and other events at http://www.sidewalkfest.com.
Corey Craft has written about film since 2009, for five years as the primary film writer for The Tuscaloosa News and now exclusively for the upstart arts and entertainment website artsBHAM.com. He and the Tuscaloosa News staff won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news journalism in 2012 for their coverage of the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak. He has a degree in telecommunications and film with an emphasis in critical studies from the University of Alabama and now teaches world literature and the history of film at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.