Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival 2011

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)

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