One of the coolest film festivals in the world takes place right here in Alabama.
The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, starting Friday and running through the weekend, earned this distinction last year from MovieMaker magazine, and this is not the first time the festival has gained national attention. Time magazine listed Sidewalk among the best “festivals for the rest of us,” and earlier this summer, The Washington Post said it simply, “Y’all should go.”
Now in its 17th year, Sidewalk organizers are preparing for an expected crowd of 10,000 people who will watch, discuss and celebrate more than 80 feature films and shorts in nine venues throughout downtown Birmingham.
But it’s not just moviegoers that Sidewalk attracts. With more than 1,200 submissions, the festival has proven to be a prime destination for filmmakers as well. This year, the festival will host about 200 filmmakers, adding to the festival’s dynamic environment.
“Not only are people watching films about all different types of places, lifestyles and cultures, but oftentimes, the filmmakers who come to the festival represent all of those different places, lifestyles and cultures,” Sidewalk Executive Director Chloe Collins said. “It creates an interesting vibe on the streets of downtown Birmingham.”
Though the Sidewalk film festival is a weekend event, the Sidewalk organization operates year-round. Under a non-profit organization, the Alabama Moving Image Association, Sidewalk hosts educational and networking events throughout the year, as well as 48-hour film competitions and a youth board for local high schoolers.
Every month, Sidewalk hosts Sidewalk Salons, an event that includes an hour of networking before a themed educational program. “Topics vary widely,” Collins said. “We’ve done everything from special effects to make-up, from how to write a grant to social media tactics.”
Some of the most highly attended programs are ones that involve new film technology, which oftentimes can be difficult to demo or purchase locally. “We had an event with Sony, and they brought a new $20,000 camera that you couldn’t get your hands on anywhere in the state. We had people come from far and wide,” Collins said.
“In the 17 years since the festival started, the Alabama film community has grown exponentially, and that’s not only because of Sidewalk, though I do think we played a role,” Collins said. “We’ve worked to develop a good national reputation, so that filmmakers can come here and make a mark.”
KEEPING THE FESTIVAL RELEVANT
Though these events are scattered throughout the year, the festival is always the main focus, and each year, Collins and her team strive to find ways to keep the event feeling new and pertinent.
“Because the film industry has changed so much and you can watch so many films on your computer and even on your phone, we have to work to keep the event relevant for our audience,” Collins said.
So Collins and her team work to create addition value through interactive experiences. First and foremost, they do this by having the filmmakers at the event, giving attendees that chance to meet them either at a screening, a panel discussion or simply on the street.
For some films, the interactive experiences are more unique and creative. Before the screening of the documentary, “Q: Alabama’s Barbecue Legends,” Birmingham-based BBQ restaurant Jim ‘N Nicks will be serving samples, giving attendees that chance to taste some of the food they are about to see.
And new to Sidewalk this year is a screening venue at the Birmingham Museum of Art solely dedicated to encore screenings. Collins said they plan to re-screen between 10 to 12 films.
“The encore venue pushes people out to the Museum of Art, which we think is great. People will get a sense of another major cultural institution in town, but it’s also providing us the opportunity to take some of the more popular films in the line-up and screen them again,” Collins said.
Sidewalk receives submissions from all over the world, but the festival gives a special distinction for films made in Alabama and/or by Alabamians, allowing attendees to take notice of work produced by homegrown talent.
Along with a distinction on promotional items, the Alabama distinction gives local filmmakers a discounted entry fee and an extended submission deadline. Besides the barbecue documentary, feature films in this category include:
- “Revival: The Sam Bush Story,” a documentary
- “Anathema Arienette,” a narrative
- “The State of Being Human,” a documentary
- “Alabama the Beautiful,” a documentary
- “For a Few Zombies More,” a narrative
- “A Dog Named Gucci,” a documentary
“There is a genuine interest from local filmmakers in coming home and saying, ‘See what I did,’” Collins said. “And in turn, we strive to give local filmmakers something to inspire to and a network to help them do it.”