21st annual Sidewalk fest is filled with UA filmmakers


CW / Joe Will Field

Kyle Ashley, Contributing Writer

Loaded with Alabama filmmakers, the Sidewalk Film Festival provides people of all backgrounds unique experiences in their movie-making efforts.

Heavy rain didn’t stop moviegoers, film buffs and novices alike from showing up in droves to the annual Sidewalk Film Festival that took place this weekend in Birmingham.

Now in its 21st year, Sidewalk Fest screens hundreds of films from all over the gamut – from comedy to horror, action to romance, the mundane to the fantastic – in venues of all shapes and sizes, and a plethora of independent filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, including a great deal of homegrown talent.

In addition to established venues, such as the iconic Alabama Theatre as well as the neighboring Lyric Theatre, which sits just across 3rd Avenue, this year saw the addition of the newly-constructed Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema. This year, the Sidewalk Film Center was mainly showing encores of shows that sold out, providing opportunities to see the festival’s hottest films for those who were excluded from first showings.

One film that was awarded an encore was “Druid City Strong.” Directed by UA senior Blake Hudson, “Druid City Strong” is a documentary about the heroic efforts of health care workers as they braved the EF-4 tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa in 2011 to provide care for those who needed it most.

“It’s really cool to see students that you work with and pieces that you worked on show in front of a large audience and get a great reception,” Hudson said.

But Hudson was far from the only University student in attendance; Nick Stellon, also a senior, produced a short shown at Sidewalk called “Losing Face.” Written and directed by University of Alabama student Magdalene Kennedy, “Losing Face” was a short film entailing misadventure, paper mache and fire.

“It’s one of those things where you go into a block and you see films that are from UA, you know people who’ve worked on them, you’ve worked on them, and you think, ‘How are we going to compete with these international films?’” Stellon said. “And then you go in and your film really does stack up to the competition and it’s a really validating feeling to know that people from UA … We might not have the biggest film program, but we’ve got a really great group of committed students, and that shows.”

Attending for the first time, Hudson and Stellon both had great experiences at Sidewalk.

“Being able to support your classmates and have them support you, but in a context that has nothing to really do with class … It’s on a much larger scale, and that’s really cool,” Stellon said.

“The most exciting part for me is having a film screen and listening to the unison reaction and sorta feeling the energy of the room and how it ebbs and flows in a way you might not get in a classroom or watching it at home on a laptop,” Hudson added. “But watching it inside a screening room with 50 to 100 people and just feeling them react to every emotional moment that you’ve been working on for a year-and-a-half to two years and feeling like, ‘Yeah I hit the nail on the head there.’ They felt what I was feeling, and they felt what I was hoping they would feel. It’s a really rewarding experience.”

But the festival was not just for students. Containing pieces from established talent from both the gold and silver screens, Sidewalk also had its fair share of films armed with budgets that, while smaller by Hollywood standards, marked a significant step up in production costs compared to the films submitted by students.

“The Death of Dick Long” was an example of such a film. Directed by Daniel Scheinert, who’s best known for co-writing and co-directing the feature film “Swiss Army Man” starring Daniel Radcliffe, “Dick Long” is a comedy-thriller that both takes place in and was filmed in Alabama.

“I wanted to shoot in Alabama, not because I thought it was about it but because it was about a rural town, and I didn’t want to shoot it in a place I knew nothing about,” Daniel said. “And I felt that back here, I could celebrate the beautiful places and people … And not go to Wyoming.”

The Sidewalk Film Festival, which simultaneously marked the coming-out party of a new generation of Alabama filmmakers, as well as a homecoming of sorts for the Alabama filmmakers who have gone on to establish careers in places like California or New York, provided an experience that is unmatched, a platform for Alabama movie-makers from all sorts of backgrounds.