The Sidewalk Film Festival, one of Birmingham’s cultural crown jewels, is back.
The festival began Monday night and continues through this Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema and six other downtown venues, including the historic Alabama, Lyric and Carver theaters.
In its 24th year, Sidewalk – as usual – allows movie lovers to gorge themselves on film after film. There are about 250 films at the festival this year, including narrative features, documentaries, shorts and animation, as well as a robust lineup of parties, trivia nights, workshops, panel discussions and other events.
In addition, Sidewalk provides a nice boost in visitors to the Theatre District downtown and typically attracted about 15,000 attendees annually before the COVID-19 pandemic. The attendees walk through a big portion of downtown as they cycle between venues, thus helping to boost walkability and connectivity – as the name Sidewalk suggests.
Sidewalk has also consistently drawn positive national media attention to Birmingham. In June, L.A.-based MovieMaker Magazine called Sidewalk a “delightfully film-mad festival” and named the event one of “20 Great Film Festivals for First Time Filmmakers.” Sidewalk “represents a diehard film community any movie maker should want to be a part of,” the magazine said.
The following is our admittedly subjective list of 15 highlights from the festival’s main weekend – on Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28.
Make sure to check out the official complete festival schedule for all the films we aren’t covering here, including the opening night film Butterfly in the Sky on Friday, Aug. 26, and the closing night film Descendant on Sunday, Aug 28, and then take a peek at the featured Sidewalk events in the latest Next Week Today column.
Make Me Famous (ASFA Recital Hall, Saturday, 10:15 a.m.) — If you love visual art and stories of the art world, Make Me Famous is a can’t miss film. Directed by Brian Vincent, it’s described as “a madcap romp” through the 1980s New York art scene and the colorful career of East Village painter-on-the-make Edward Brezinski. The film also touches on the mystery surrounding his ultimate fate. It was filmed in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Ireland, Berlin and the Cote d’Azur.
Black Mothers Love & Resist (Carver Theatre, Saturday, 2 p.m.) — In what promises to be a moving, powerful documentary, Wanda Johnson and Angela Williams – mothers of young Black men who’ve faced police brutality – build a community support network and advocate against anti-Black violence The film, directed by Débora Souza Silva, takes place in both the Deep South and the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland, Calif.
Jimmy in Saigon (First Church Birmingham, Saturday, 2:40 p.m.) — Directed by Peter McDowell, this film tells the story of McDowell’s brother, Jim, a Vietnam War veteran who died in Saigon as a civilian under mysterious circumstances in 1972. The film draws on 200 of Jim’s letters and interviews with friends and family, and deals with such themes as grief, family secrets, war, drug use, sexuality and healing. Jimmy in Saigon has been an official selection at several festivals recently, including the BFI Flare and Frameline 46 festivals.
Etowah: A Film about Duquette Johnston (Carver Theatre, Saturday, 7 p.m.) — Etowah tells the story of Birmingham musician Duquette Johnston, who says he’s lived a “wild, incredible life.” The film follows him from his success with 1990s band Verbena through a stint in prison to his new life – running a retail shop in Woodlawn and recording more music. “There’s good that comes out of dark periods if you choose to find that,” he says. This screening will be followed by a Q & A and live performance by Johnston.
The Thief Collector (Dorothy Jemison Day Theater, Sunday, 3 p.m.) — In a true crime documentary set in the art world, The Thief Collector – directed by Allison Otto – explores one of the most audacious 20th-century art heists. In 1985, Willem de Kooning’s uber-valuable painting “Woman-Ochre” was cut from its frame at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. It was rediscovered 32 years later in a very unlikely place – in the home of eccentric married couple Jimmy and Rita Alters in New Mexico.
The Integrity Of Joseph Chambers (Birmingham Museum of Art, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) — Filmed in Alabama and starring Alabama resident Clayne Crawford, this feature tells the story of an insurance salesman who fears the apocalypse and sets off into the woods on a solo hunt with a rifle. Directed by Robert Machoian, the movie recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is a “stripped-down and atmospheric drama” with an “eerie tone,” according to tribecafilm.com.
Quantum Cowboys (Birmingham Museum of Art, Saturday, 9:50 p.m.) — This mixed-media animated feature – set in 1870s Arizona – tells the story of two drifters who help a woman recover her land and search for an elusive frontier musician. Quantum Cowboys is said to be a blend of quantum theory and musings about art, along with gunfights, horses, dance halls, cacti and saloons. The film has a large, eccentric cast and makes use of 12 animation styles.
Bootyology (Lyric Theatre, Saturday, 9:45 p.m.) — In this broad comedy, a documentary crew seeks to explore artificial intelligence and popular music, but they stumble across a mystery regarding the disappearance of an infamous rap duo. Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210) stars in the film.
Resurrection (Alabama Theatre, Saturday, 10:15 p.m.) — A psychological thriller written and directed by Andrew Semans, Resurrection stars Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth. A woman’s carefully constructed life is upended when an abusive ex-boyfriend turns up after two decades. Resurrection is “diabolically intense” with “riveting” performances from Hall and Roth, said Sheila O’Malley at rogerebert.com.
Pretty Problems (Lyric Theatre, Sunday, 6 p.m.) — Birmingham native Britt Rentschler co-stars in a comedy about an average couple who experience a wild, unhinged weekend at a chateau in Sonoma with some affluent strangers. Can the couple’s relationship survive? The film was this year’s winner of the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Sidewrite Table Reads (ASFA Lecture Hall, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.) — At this panel session, attendees hear readings of the winning scripts in the annual Sidewrite screenplay competition. Winners are chosen by professional jurors in three categories – Best Feature Screenplay, Best Alabama Screenplay and Best Short Screenplay.
Nathan Avakian and the International Youth Silent Film Festival (Alabama Theatre, Saturday, 3:10 p.m.) — Organist Avakian, using the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Alabama, will play the soundtrack for a historic silent short, then accompany a selection of contemporary short films from the members of the International Youth Silent Film Festival as they seek to reinvent the art form. Presented by the Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society
Building a DIY Film Community (ASFA Lecture Hall, Sunday, 1 p.m.) — This panel, about efforts to build a film community in Alabama and the South, is moderated by film professor and radio host Gareth Jones. Other speakers include Anton Jackson, director of the Montgomery Film Festival.
Lover, Beloved (Alabama Theatre, Sunday, 9:20 p.m.) — In this performance film, veteran singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega reinterprets two talks by legendary American writer Carson McCullers. McCullers, who died in 1967, is best known for her Southern gothic novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Vega presented Lover, Beloved in 2011 as a stage play and later as an album of songs.
Short films are generally not big money-makers, but they are in some ways the heart and soul of the film business, and are a relatively inexpensive way for filmmakers to start making films and get some attention for their work.
Sidewalk, as always, will present a wide array of short film blocks from filmmakers around the world, including Black Lens, SHOUT, environmental and animated shorts. The festival also presents a multitude of narrative and documentary shorts, including a series of Alabama-focused shorts.
About 15 documentary shorts, all with a strong Alabama link, will be shown during two blocks – Alabama Documentary Shorts 1, at the Alabama Theatre, Saturday at 10 a.m., and Alabama Documentary Shorts 2, at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Sunday at noon.
18 narrative shorts will be presented during two blocks, as well – Alabama Narrative Shorts 1 will be screened on Saturday at 12:10 p.m., and Alabama Narrative Shorts 2 on Sunday at 12:20 p.m., both at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at Alabama School of Fine Arts.
For more information about the Sidewalk Film Festival, call 205-324-0888 or go to sidewalkfest.com.