Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Film fest returns to Tuscaloosa

In the spring of 2012, a group of University of Alabama students returned from a trip to the Sundance Film Festival with a mission. Inspired by Sundance’s atmosphere, wheels began to turn. Three months later, in April 2013, the first edition of the Black Warrior Film Festival hit the screens in Tuscaloosa for the first time.

Showcasing student films from around the South, including films by current UA students, the Black Warrior Film Festival is now entering its third year, opening Friday, Feb. 13 and running through Sunday, Feb. 15. As the festival begins to take shape, Executive Director of Festival Production Katie Howard and Director of Public Relations Connor Fox – members of the festival’s founding group – said they have high expectations for the festival as both a student-run entity and a showcase of Southern filmmaking.

“We try to get as many elements of the South in the festival,” said Howard, a senior majoring in public relations. “All of the student films are from the southeast, so that environment may show through.”

The festival has attracted high-profile filmmakers in recent years and this year is no different. Writer-director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) gave a master class and screened her film “Middle of Nowhere” at last year’s festival.

This year, documentarian Margaret Brown will screen her Mobile-based documentary “The Great Invisible,” about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Ya’Ke Smith, whose acclaimed short films have screened at festivals such as Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, will both open the festival and give a directing workshop. Producer Tom Heller, whose credits include the Arkansas-filmed and festival-closing film “Mud,” the James Franco drama “127 Hours” and “Foxcatcher,” will also attend.

Fox and Howard said the festival’s inception was inspired by the success of the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham.

“We really admire the work that Sidewalk does,” Fox said. “It helps make Birmingham a desirable destination, and contributes to the renewal of arts and culture that we want to bring to our campus.”

Howard said she agreed and said Sidewalk and Black Warrior share a common goal.

“Sidewalk is a major southeast film festival that’s growing in numbers, attendees, and funds, and that’s really becoming a showcase for Southern film,” Howard said. “It’s not just filmmakers taking their movies to New York. Both festivals admire what they do, and celebrate it.”

Andrew Grace, an instructor of telecommunication and film and a documentary filmmaker, said the Southern film industry has begun to grow in recent years, largely due to film incentive packages offered by states like Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina.

“There’s a longstanding belief that the South is full of storytellers that has brought filmmakers to the Deep South,” Grace said. “A good Southern film has the sense of sitting down and listening to someone tell a story. Storytelling is universal, but certain elements are distinctly Southern.”

Howard said the characteristics that define a Southern film are different for each element, but filmmakers no longer see the region as just “flyover country.”

“It proves the point that you don’t have to be in Los Angeles or New York to make a quality film,” she said. “You don’t need the huge pulls of the entertainment industry, you don’t need a big city or a soundstage. You need good talent.”

Fox said the scale of Southern film has also played a part.

“That focus lends an element of authenticity,” he said. “It’s more real. It doesn’t have to be a large-scale production.”

Grace, who spoke on a panel at last year’s festival and had students whose films have screened, said the enthusiasm for the festival has been wonderful and the festival has been an impressive and interesting development.

“Black Warrior’s interesting in that it’s here in the University community, but it brings in serious talent like Margaret Brown,” Grace said. “It takes a long time for a film festival to develop. They have to make decisions about their audiences, and they’re doing a good job focusing and centering it here. It’s an experience not many undergrads can say they’ve had, from coast-to-coast. It’s impressive.”

Fox said the festival transcends the big screen and spreads into increasing awareness of the artistic and cultural scenes at work in Tuscaloosa.

“The festival experience is something new and if some people haven’t been downtown, we’re giving them a reason,” he said. “Films are very social because they give us something to talk about. The festival’s a new unifying experience, and we couldn’t be more excited.”

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