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LIghts, Camera, Action! Film Festivals and Film Debuts in the South

Posted: Jan 06, 2008

Late winter and spring of 2008 will see the blossoming of a host of film festivals in the South. A number of the festivals showcase original films and present cash awards to the best new films. Others bring classic, hard to find, topical, or thematic films to the area.

John Sayles’ widely acclaimed film Honeydripper will make its Alabama debut  on Monday, February 4, at the Bama Theatre in Tuscaloosa. The recent New Yorker magazine praised Honeydripper and concluded by saying "in that tiny club he [Sayles] has created his version of the birth of rock and roll." If you missed James Calemine’s interview with Sayles on Swampland, you missed a real treat. I encourage you to check it out now.

On February 7, the Oxford Film Festival will kick off its fifth big year in Oxford, MS. This festival runs through Sunday, February 10. One of the top films last year was a documentary entitled Darius Goes West. In a single year, this little movie has garnered twenty-five awards. The inspirational film tells the story of Darius Weems, a teenager with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (a fatal disease affecting young people), and his eleven friends who take Darius, who had never left his home of Athens, GA, on a road trip to the West Coast.

Later this month I will talk with Logan Smalley , creator and director of Darius Goes West, about the genesis of the film and how making the documentary has changed his life. Watch for this feature on Swampland in a couple of weeks.. Meanwhile, you can find out more about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) and make a donation to the foundation by clicking on charleysfund.org, You can also purchase the DVD of Darius Goes West on that site.

Later in February (23-25) the Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County and Temple Emanu-El will present the 6th Annual Jewish Film Festival in Tuscaloosa, AL, at the Bama Theatre. The Annual Jewish Film Festival will feature the best of award-winning and entertaining film-making from the Jewish community. Established for both cultural outreach and understanding, the festival also provides insight into a variety of world cultures.

Florida is home to a large number of film festivals, not the least of which is the Gasparilla Film Festival which will take place February 27 through March 2 in Tampa.

Up in my neck of the woods, the George Lindsay Film Festival will present its 11th Annual Festival on March 6-9 in Florence, Alabama. The list of previous festival guests includes Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, "Sling Blade" star Lucas Black, character actor Stephen Root ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") and actor-songwriter Donnie Fritts ("Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia"), makeup-effects artist Robert Hall ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), actor Cedric Pendleton (The Shield"), radio personality Mark Thompson (of "Mark & Brian" fame), photographer David Lee, recording-industry executive Mike Curb and music-video artist Ray Stevens.

I had the privilege of attending the 2006 festival which included a gala featuring Little Richard and a premiere of the movie When I Find the Ocean by filmmaker and Florence native, Tonya S. Holly. I also had the good fortune to see the superb documentary Dangerous Highway about the life of Eddie Hinton (see photo) which was directed and produced by  my friend Deryle Perryman and Moises Gonzalez. Since the spring of 2006, Dangerous Highway has gone on to make a name for itself on the film festival circuit across the US.

Down on the gulf coast of Alabama, the Fairhope Film Festival will run from April 3 through April 5. The Fairhope Film Festival (FFF) brings a new unique concept to the world of cinema; a festival centered on a central theme, Romance. The FFF will bring a collection of diverse films to the local community and visitors from around the world with movies revolving around the element of romance. This festival is hosted by Option 3 Media in Fairhope Alabama—a city well known for its storybook charm, its artistic ambiance, and its sweeping views of the Mobile Bay. FFF is determined and dedicated to becoming an ongoing, annual tradition showcasing talented filmmakers from around the world.

Other film festivals in April include the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, MS, April 3-6 and the Atlanta Film Festival April 10-19. A particularly exciting festival is the Spaghetti Junction Urban Film Festival which will be held April 16-20 in Decatur, GA. The Spaghetti Junction Urban Film Festival exists to provide an opportunity for independent filmmakers of color to have their works showcased before the community, as well as to serve as an avenue of discovery for industry professionals seeking new talent worldwide. The Spaghetti Junction Urban Film Festival is one of the fastest growing film festivals in the southeast and has positioned itself as the preeminent launching pad for independent films,

Another festival I do not want to miss is the Tupelo Film Festival (May 15-May 17). Be sure to check out the web site and see last year’s amazing lineup. This year’s schedule will be posted soon. I know I am supposed to be talking about films, but as soon as I see the name Vanelli’s, I start to salivate. If you have not had the pleasure of dining at this unique establishment, I can assure you that it is worth the trip to Tupelo, MS, to do so. Why not drive over to the film festival this May and indulge yourself in lunch or dinner at Vanelli’s.

As for me, I plan to be on the road for the next few months—down to Tuscaloosa for the opening of Honeydripper, then to Ole Miss for the Fifth Annual Oxford Film Fest, then over to Florence in March for the 11th Annual George Lindsay Film Festival, and finally to Tupelo in May.

I never seem to be in New York City in time to attend the Tribeca Film Festival (by the way, Darius Goes West was shown there this past spring), but with festivals like these in the south, who needs the Big Apple? (However, I must confess that I will be making a quick trip to Manhattan on March 28 to celebrate my daughter’s and my best friend’s birthdays in the city. )

Before I conclude this dispatch, I want to congratulate Emmy Award winning director/producer Celia Carey whose original documentary Mr. Dial Has Something To Say  has been chosen as one of the 17 films to represent United States Public Television at the annual International Public Television (INPUT) conference. The documentary aired on APT on October 16, 2007. In 2005, Carey’s film The Quiltmakers of Gees Bend was also a US finalist.

Filmmaking is definitely alive and well in the deep south.

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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