Thursday, September 8, 2011

13th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival

SayBre Photography
Jay recently attended the 13th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, AL and has returned with this report on his experiences!

After many years of hearing about the Sidewalk Film Festival, I finally attended it this year as I was lucky enough to have my short film Kristin Grace from Outer Space screen in one of the short film blocks. I was able to attend opening night as well as Saturday, so here's a recap on all of my adventures.

Opening Night:
Bart Hyatt and myself

Actor/musician and longtime friend Bart Hyatt and myself made the one hour trip to Birmingham and arrived with plenty of time to get settled in before the opening night film, The Innkeepers, directed by Ti West. I'm a huge fan of Ti West's House of the Devil, so I was very eager to check this one out. We found some parking right down the street from the Alabama theater and picked up our VIP passes. This year marked the first time we'd been to Sidewalk so we had no idea what to expect. We were both blown away with the beauty of the Alabama Theater and pretty stoked to learn that they'll be screening Carpenter's Halloween, Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, and a couple of other horror films there in late October.

We grabbed a beer a piece, no thanks to the two chat-and-cutters who hopped in line ahead of us. These two would have given Larry David a nervous breakdown. Despite the frustration this gave me, I was able to move on, and we made it into the Innkeepers screening without me getting beaten up or kicked out.


Directed by Ti West
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis

The Innkeepers was a lot of fun. The film stars Sara Paxton (Claire) and Pat Healy (Luke) as two employees at the old Yankee Peddler Hotel, which is in the process of closing its doors for good. Both characters are interested in the haunted history of the hotel and Luke has claimed to have seen apparitions in the past. They have both attempted to record EVPs and video footage within the hotel before, and Luke has his own paranormal website up and running. They both get a little more than they bargained for during the last few days of business though, as the spirits become extra friendly once we're introduced to the characters.

The film is a nice balance between horror and comedy, and the audience definitely seemed very receptive as there were plenty of laughs and a good amount of jumps to go around. Audience participation was high and it was a good way to start off the festival. The two main characters are both awkward and aloof, something I definitely enjoyed, and I think most everyone else did too. Sara Paxton was solid in the lead and Pat Healy was really funny in the more openly comedic role. My only complaints are that it never seemed to really kick it into the next gear and one of the big reveals during the final act felt a little too much like a straight forward horror film. I wouldn't have minded this at all except the pace slows back down again immediately and it felt a little awkward to me. It ended strong with some really creepy stuff in a basement though and the vibe during this was perfect. The score by Jeff Grace is pretty damn great too!

Pat Healy and Peter Phok - SayBre Photography
Producer Peter Phok and actor Pat Healy were in attendance and introduced the film on stage. I saw both of them from time to time throughout the rest of the festival and they both seemed very gracious to be there and were chatting it up with different people. I even ran into Pat Healy while getting a beer at the VIP lounge before the Saturday screening of WITHOUT, where he mentioned to me that he'd heard it was pretty intense and had a Polanski/Repulsion vibe. This excited me about seeing the film even more as it was already one of the films I was dying to see.

So, that brings me to Saturday at 2:40PM where Bart and I stood up the entire time to take in Mark Jackson's WITHOUT.

WITHOUT (2011)

Directed by Mark Jackson
Starring Joslyn Jensen, Ron Carrier, and Darren Lenz

Young Joslyn is only slightly removed from high school when she takes a job caring for a wheelchair-bound man in a vegetative state. Not only that, but she's living on an island where she's unable to get cell service or internet. Without lives up to its title as the main character is completely alone in this new environment.

I knew I wanted to see this film after viewing the trailer, which includes scenes of Josyln trying to get cell service in a dark bedroom, with no luck. This connected with me and I made a point to attend the screening. These scenes take place early on, as well as a scene of Joslyn looking at a picture of another girl on her cell phone and zooming the picture in on the girls face. This is one of a couple of stories that develops throughout the duration of the film, and is the main catalyst for the mindset of our main character. 

There's not much for Joslyn to do besides take care of the old man, Frank, and sit around the house. She's instructed at the beginning that Frank only likes to watch the fishing channel on TV and that she should leave it on this channel. This leads to one of my favorite emotional scenes as Joslyn starts to show signs of cracking as she battles with the TV remotes. She's so desperate that she drags an ancient computer out of storage and tries to connect to the internet using dialup. I've been there as recently as last year, so I related to this a lot as well. 

I don't really want to give many of the plot details away, as I went in with no clue what I was going to witness besides a young girl caring for a man in a wheelchair. There are some elements that I never saw coming and the mixture of subplots is a very refreshing take.

Joslyn Jensen - Without

Joslyn, played by Joslyn Jensen, is really good in this film and considering she carries the entire thing, she deserves a ton of credit. Mark Jackson's direction is strong as well, and he got a great effect out of how he shot this film. It's all pretty much point and shoot, and some characters faces are kept out of shots to add a certain feel to their scenes. It works, though never really comes full circle with any of the subplots, but that's one reason I love it. In a movie that's so based in reality, it would be an injustice to the audience to wrap it all up in a neat little package. Instead, things just reach the only logical ending that they could, and it all feels right to me. 
Without won the Best Narrative Feature at Sidewalk and I can definitely see why. It was the most enjoyable experience I had at the festival, even if I had to stand up in the back the entire time. 

After Without, Bart and I picked up our filmmaker gift bags and then headed over to the Carver theatre for the Local Short Film Block 1, where our film Kristin Grace from Outer Space was set to screen. 


Here's an overview of all the shorts that played in this block, in screening order, with the description used in the Sidewalk Film Festival guide.

Kaylin Quinlivan - Kristin Grace from Outer Space

Time Calls 
Directed by Nancy Stricklin
Time Calls is an emotionally charged film about finding the answer to life's questions.

Directed by Kyle Roberts
When Bridget decides she wants to move out of the country to live her life, Rhys uses found memories and the beauty of the city to plead with her to stay.

The Big Empty
Directed by Billy Ray Brewton
A young man and his father struggle through their strained relationship after running out of gas.

Kristin Grace from Outer Space
Directed by Jay Burleson
A phone call between the father of a strange teenage girl and her school counselor.

The Green Seed "Crack Kills"
Directed by Sugartooth
Music Video from The Green Seed.

I Am
Directed by Carey Rayburn
A man is slowly driven insane as everything around him begins to change.

Cardboard Titanics
Directed by Sam Frazier, Jr.
Artists build, row, and race boats made solely of cardboard and duct tape in an insane effort to recapture the American dream.

Without You
Directed by Mark Clement
Married couple in their 30s, marriage in trouble. Deep hurts have been revealed and we journey with them through the process of coming to terms with their situation. To stay, to leave, to fight, to give up. This very raw and real look at married life is extremely real to almost anyone who has been married for a few years.

Bryan Clark in Time Calls

Cardboard Titanics and The Big Empty garnered the most audience applause, and while Time Calls didn't necessarily connect with me, it did have the most amazing cinematography out of the entire bunch. It looked as good as anything I saw at Sidewalk. While I felt Mark Clement's Without You was a bit too long and repetitive, it did feature the strongest performances out of this lineup. Kristin Grace didn't get much of a reaction from the audience, but it was a good learning experience, and I think I have taken home some valuable lessons on what plays well and what doesn't.

Apparently there was a Q and A with my fellow filmmakers from this block after the screenings ended, but Bart and I were starving and went to stuff our faces instead. We washed down our food with a few drinks at a local bar, The Speakeasy, and then caught the 10:00 showing of Joe Swanberg and Adam Wingard's AUTOEROTIC.

Autoerotic was forwarded by a short documentary film I FUCK WITH MY VOICE: ITS A CARTOON. It's directed by Evan Rothman and tells the story of a young woman who does voiceover work for Anime porn. It was well shot, humorous, and got some great reactions from the audience, but dragged on about 5 minutes too long for my taste. It fit perfectly in front of Autoerotic though, and the story is a very interesting one. I've tried to find more about it online, but there doesn't seem to be much out there.

Lane Hughes and Amy Seimetz - Autoerotic


Directed by Joe Swanberg and Adam Wingard
Starring Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Kris Swanberg, and Amanda Crawford

It should be noted that Bart and I had already seen Autoerotic, so we only stuck around for the first 15 minutes so we could check out the segment featuring our friend and partner Lane Hughes. The place was packed and there was standing room only for the screening, and from what we could tell the audience seemed really into it. I can only imagine that they really enjoyed the rest of the film as well.

Autoerotic tells the story of four interconnected Chicago couples as they dabble in sexual self-gratification and is a comedy at its heart. The first story tells the tale of a young man (played by Lane Hughes) who is feeling very insecure about his penis size and decides to start taking a pill to enhance his performance. Once the pills come in, he starts feeling pretty cocky about himself (man, I'm funny) and kicks his girlfriend (played by A Horrible Way to Die star Amy Seimetz) to the curb. It's anything but easy street for the man afterwards though, as he has created quite the monster downstairs.

The film looks great, and looked a lot better on the big screen than most films we took in at Sidewalk. Wingard's visuals (with the aid of Birmingham based cinematographer Chris Hileke) mixes well with the natural storytelling that Swanberg excels in. The combination seems to have really worked for the two on their collaborations, and this is no exception. Wingard also does a good bit of acting in this film and his segment is by far the most bizarre. Autoerotic is out now through IFC and is streaming on Amazon on Demand.

All in all, Bart and I both had a really great experience at Sidewalk and hope to return next year with more polished work. We were treated like kings while we were there and took in some really interesting and well made films. If you're looking for a great film festival in the Southeast then look no further than Sidewalk!

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