03 April, 2012

Wrapping up the 2012 Atlanta Film Festival and looking ahead

Seeing and speaking with actress Nicole Beharie was a highlight of the festival

The 36th Atlanta Film Festival came to a close Sunday and I can proudly say that of the six years I've attended, this was the best fest yet. The films were strong and diverse. The venues, especially the new Atlanta Gem Series locations, were fun and accommodating. The staff was warm and helpful. The stars were bright and plenty. Sure, there were delays, technical problems, long waits, etc. If you find a festival without any of those, please let me know, so I can avoid what is undoubtedly a boring and lifeless event.

The Atlanta Film Festival is full of life. Thanks to a new Executive Director, Chris Escobar, and longtime festival veteran, Charles Judson, now the Festival Director and Head of Programming; the festival has made great leaps in organization, cohesion and over-all cool factor. For years, the event felt like a film festival that was in Atlanta, now it feels, as it should, like Atlanta's film festival. With new partnerships with Georgia State University, the Plaza Theatre and Atlanta Magazine, the festival's future looks aglow.

I opted out of conducting red carpet interviews this year since I'm still so new to this and I feel like I would ask the same questions everyone else has already asked. I had the pleasure of watching some of the established journalists do some red carpet work, and I feel like I have it in me to do some decent interviews at some point. Regardless of speaking with them, it was still so much fun seeing some of my new favorite stars and filmmakers. Stunning actress Nicole Beharie had two films at the fest, "My Last Day Without You" and "The Last Fall." Getting to see and speak with her was a highlight of the festival. Carrie Preston, Kristen Connolly, Matthew Lillard, Tatyana Ali, Lance Gross and a bevy of other actors and filmmakers were all a delight to see in attendance.

One of my favorite aspects of this year's fest was the Atlanta Gem Series. Branching out from the main venue at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, special screenings and events took place at The Plaza Theatre, Woodruff Arts Center, The Earl Smith Strand Theatre, The Rialto and The Goat Farm. Hosting events throughout the city is a huge step in unifying the city's film fans and bringing new patrons into the festival. Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs boast so many unique venues that could be included in the Gem Series in the future. Just thinking off the top of my head, some potential locations for screenings, concerts or other events could include the Buckhead Theatre, Cobb Energy Centre, Starlight Drive-in or Variety Playhouse. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival hosts their annual opening night gala at the Fox Theatre, which works beautifully for the event.

The partnership with Georgia State University is another fantastic opportunity realized. GSU boasts an exciting film school and frequently hosts film series and events. My dream would be to take this new affiliation a bit further and use other metro universities to market the festival as well. Posters and word of mouth around a college campus can go a very long way. Making sure the young, fun-seeking college students at Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Emory, Clark Atlanta and other schools know about the ins-and-outs of the festival could mean several hundred extra tickets sold. Even screening a film or two on some of the campuses would be both fun and beneficial.

While I most enjoy seeing the smaller films that won't ever get a wide commercial release, I am always thrilled to see the festival show already buzzed films like "The Cabin in the Woods." For instance, I've never seen the house as packed as it was when I saw "(500) Days of Summer" during the 2009 festival. Films like these bring so many non-traditional attendees in and send such good word of the festival back out with them when they go.

Over the next week or two, I will be churning out reviews for the films I saw. Whether it was opening night film "L!fe Happens," smaller favorites like "Welcome to Pine Hill" and "Ok Good," or foreign imports like "Americano" and "Boy;" I'll cover all the bases.

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