UPDATE: This story is written by Michael Tomberlin from Alabama NewsCenter. Learn more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com/
With 250 films from 26 countries, it’s a good bet that Sidewalk Film Festival will have something for everyone in this, its 17th year. But with the largest slate of Alabama-produced feature films and shorts the Birmingham festival has ever had, this year’s event promises plenty of local flavor as well.
The festival begins with live music today at 5 p.m. with the first film, “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” screening at 8 p.m. in the Alabama Theatre. “Raiders!” is the story of two guys from Ocean Springs, Miss., whose love for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” inspired them to remake the movie frame by frame. The making of the film took on a life of its own and became the story of the feature screening tonight.
That will begin a weekend full of shorts lasting from 90 seconds to features lasting 30 minutes that will air in nine different venues at six locations within a few downtown blocks of each other. Alabama Power is the title sponsor of the festival. The Alabama Theatre is the primary venue, but films will also be shown in the Carver Theatre, four venues within the Alabama School of Fine Arts, the Red Mountain Theatre Company Cabaret Theatre, McWane Center’s Rushton Theater and the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Steiner Auditorium.
The festival is much larger than when it began. The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the event has an economic impact of between $1 million and $1.5 million. It has been recognized by USA Today, Time and MovieMaker magazine as one of the nation’s best film festivals and its reputation and size continues to climb. “I don’t know that when the three founders sat down and tossed this idea around 17 years ago if they were sure it would hang in for as long as we have, but I’m sure glad we’re still here for year 17,” said Chloe Collins, executive director of Sidewalk Film Festival. “It’s really been sort of fun and interesting to watch our reputation grow at the national and international level.”
Around 3,000 attendees are expected over the three days, she said, with 70 percent coming from the Birmingham metro area. Collins said the festival sells out its block of hotel rooms every year, with many of them going to Birmingham metro attendees who want to stay close to the festival all weekend rather than returning home. The other 30 percent of attendees come from across the country or around the world, she said.
More and more of the films are coming in from far and wide as the festival draws more national and international attention. The festival has also inspired more Alabama filmmakers, Collins said. “I think this year we actually have the most Alabama features that we’ve ever had in the history of the festival,” she said. “We have at least four short (film) blocks. Those are roughly 90 minutes that are all Alabama short films – documentaries as well as narratives.” Collins said the festival has become the go-to organization for those seeking information on the film industry in Birmingham.
“Several years ago, the Birmingham-Jefferson Film Office closed. In the time since then, we have received in our office a great number of phone calls and emails from people who are just looking for more information about how to shoot a film here in Birmingham,” she said. “Just the increase in volume of calls that we’ve received is an indication to me that more work is happening here and more people are aware of our incentives package from out of state.”
Collins said they answer those questions they can and refer callers to the state film office for questions they can’t answer. “On a grassroots level, organizations like Sidewalk really help to not only provide some educational opportunities for filmmakers and – in the case of the festival, a platform for their work – but to also provide some networking opportunities,” Collins said. Collins has seen filmmakers, producers, financiers and other professionals make key connections through the festival and at Sidewalk’s monthly networking and educational events.
Trailers for several of this weekend’s films can be found on the Sidewalk Film Festival website. Single tickets, day passes, weekend passes and VIP passes can be purchased on the festival’s website or by calling 205-332-3715.