It’s hard to put into words what an entertaining and affirming experience it was to be a part of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival this past August in Birmingham … and to receive the Programmer’s Award from Rachel Morgan and Kyle McKinnion in matching prom tuxedos a la “Carrie”!
Sidewalk afforded us our first opportunity to “take the show on the road” and present our movie to a completely unbiased audience, which was both thrilling and frightening. The festival’s best quality is, at first glance, its inclusiveness: homegrown Birmingham audiences who have an adventurous appetite for indie cinema and welcome zero-budget filmmakers to town with a “southern hospitality” that is expected but still surprising in its spirited realization. The festival kick-off party upon the roof of the Kress Building in downtown Birmingham was a wonderful gathering of familiar faces, product placement beer and new friends (and Adam Donaghey). I was informed that the opening night screening of Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” had sold out the 2,200-seat Alabama Theatre, a feat that many of us indie filmmakers on the fringes can appreciate as a bona fide fait accompli.
Another strength of the festival is its commitment to both locally-produced and LGBT fare, which plays a role in Sidewalk’s strong audience turnout. So many festivals struggle with the balancing act of showcasing locally-made fare in tandem with touring festival favorites, and also programming gay and lesbian content at the risk of alienating their less adventurous patrons. Sidewalk, on the other hand, has pretty much just dynamited that high-wire altogether by programming two screening sidebars, “Made in Alabama” and “SHOUT,” that are so thorough in their programming that they could serve as standalone festivals themselves. This keeps everything centralized in downtown Birmingham without alternative “sister” festivals competing for audiences at other venues, and it affirms the festival’s “something for everyone” selection of screening choices.
Fun fact: did you know that there is a secret TV built into the dais of the Alabama Metro Power Auditorium so that visiting filmmakers can watch college football while they field questions from the audience? Absolutely true!
(photo credit: Scott England)
It has been an occasionally brutal year on the film festival circuit for our strange little movie, but that is not to say that there weren’t occasionally bright respites along the way: for every form rejection letter we received, there were five new lasting friendships made with folks we met at the Maryland Film Festival. So it’s important to stress how grateful we all are to everyone there at the festival, as they truly provided us with one of the best possible venues and audiences for the world premiere of “Small Pond.” It represented a one-of-a-kind opportunity for us to share our movie with an incredibly warm and receptive audience comprised of both our own local Baltimore crew and many other stalwarts of the Maryland production community who have continually encouraged and inspired me to make the leap to long-form feature filmmaking. I also personally thought that the festival itself really reached a new level this year in terms of how many friendly and interesting filmmakers in attendance responded to its plucky vibe and how the festival is beginning to assert itself as a mandatory annual stop for a lot of them.
(photo credit: Alix Southwick)