12 March, 2013

What to see at the 2013 Atlanta Film Festival

At nearly 40 years old (37, to be exact), the Atlanta Film Festival has earned the distinction of Georgia's foremost festival event. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is a more sprawling, ticket-selling extravaganza. The Savannah Film Festival hosts bigger stars and showcases 'higher profile' films. The Macon Film Festival and Rome International Film Festival are famously friendly and tremendously resourceful. But the years have been kind and the decades of extra experience have paid off for the ATLFF. For a long time, the festival floundered to find its niche– not knowing whether to focus on Southern film, independent film, LGBT film or to just pick up scraps from other, more established festivals. Last year, under the leadership of new executive director, Chris Escobar, and recently crowned festival director, Charles Judson, the festival made great strides towards a unique, truly Atlantan voice. This year, that voice rings out with an uninhibited clarity.

Just as Georgia's film industry, both commercially and independently, has taken off and continues to move at a break-neck speed, the ATLFF has managed to become a destination film fest for international filmmakers while placing a huge emphasis on our locally-grown work. This year's lineup is the most solid, cohesive yet. While we see a few all-stars from this season's earlier festivals (Sundance, SXSW, Toronto); a slew of unique programming enters the race here, including dozens of Georgia-made features and shorts. Congratulations to Judson and company for all your hard work paying off!

Now, what should you see this year? The correct answer would be, 'as much as you can.' The ten day event features plenty for anyone and everyone. Saturdays and Sundays are jam-packed with programming, but you won't have to worry about leaving work to catch a film as weekday screenings are set in the evening. If you can get away during the weekdays, though, please do. The Cinformation seminar series is going to be well worth your time.

I simply can't wait for the big kickoff this Friday. After the jump, I've highlighted this year's most promising fare– including the big names, the buzzed titles and all the homegrown good stuff.

Opening Night: Mud

Jeff Nichols' followup to the quietly powerful "Take Shelter" is "Mud," already a huge hit featured at Cannes and Sundance. Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon star in the thriller set on the Arkansas shores of the Mississippi River. This is a huge get for the festival and won't be in theaters until April. 

Closing Night: The Spectacular Now

James Pondsolt won critical acclaim last year for Sundance hit "Smashed" and was at it again this year for "The Spectacular Now," shot in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. The film aims to dignify teen drama, and if the rave reviews from Park City in January are any indication– it does. Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh star.

Special Presentations

Handpicked to receive some extra attention, the festival has several special presentations in addition to the opening and closing night films. Ray McKinnon (who also stars in "Mud") won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2001 after his film, "The Accountant," qualified as an ATLFF selection. McKinnon comes back to Atlanta with the premiere of his latest project, "Rectify." The Sundance Channel original series was also shot in Georgia, making this premiere all the more fitting. The Whitest Kids U Know will put on a live performance at the Plaza on Saturday, March 16th at 9:30 PM. Speaking of live performances, the hugely successful music video/concert event at The Goat Farm is back this year. Music has a big presence at the festival this year, thanks to the Sound & Vision night and the musical nature of special presentation films like "Faces in the Mirror" and "Scarred but Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin n Cryin." Finally, Atlanta-based WonderRoot will showcase some of its locally-sourced film.
  • "Rectify"
  • The Whitest Kids U Know
  • "Faces in The Mirror"
  • Sound & Vision at The Goat Farm
  • "Scarred but Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin n Cryin"
  • WonderRoot: Generally Local, Mostly Independent

Familiar faces from Georgia's festival circuit

The ATLFF might be the state's Big Kahuna, but occasionally films have their Georgia premiere at one of our other lovely festivals. I saw stirring documentary "La Source" last September at the Rome International Film Festival. I saw "The Sapphires" last November at the Savannah Film Festival, where "Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines" also played. "The Suicide Kid" played last month at the Macon Film Festival.

Georgia on film

Georgia looks to have its best showing ever as part of this year's lineup. Aside from the closing night film and two of the special presentations, ten other features have Georgia ties. Whether shot here, produced here or from Georgia filmmakers, we are proud to claim these as our own. "Congratulations!," "euphonia," "Good Ol' Freda" and "Submit the Documentary" are some of the more heavily buzzed titles here. "Dead Man's Burden" is in competition for the Narrative Grand Jury Prize.
  • "The Spectacular Now"
  • "Rectify"
  • "Scarred but Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin n Cryin"
  • "A Band of Rogues"
  • "Breaking Through"
  • "Dead Man’s Burden"
  • "Congratulations!"
  • "euphonia"
  • "Good Ol’ Freda"
  • "The Mansion"
  • "Moral Sleaze"
  • "Solace"
  • "Submit the Documentary"

Highly buzzed

I can't go into much detail on these, having not seen any of them yet. But I have heard these titles a lot in the festival community. From Toronto to Sundance to Miami to SXSW, these films have earned some good marks. Standing out to me are "7 Boxes," "As Goes Janesville," "Cinema Six" and "Exquisite Corpse Project."
  • "7 Boxes"
  • "As Goes Janesville"
  • "Becoming Redwood"
  • "Between Us"
  • "The Brass Teapot"
  • "Cinema Six"
  • "Claire's Cambodia"
  • "Exquisite Corpse Project"
  • "Losing Lebron"
  • "Magic Camp"
  • "Mohammed to Maya"
  • "Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride"
  • "Not Waving But Drowning"
  • "A Teacher"
  • "Iceberg Slim: The Portrait of a Pimp"

'This is Atlanta' doc shorts

This documentary block is a can't miss! The "This is Atlanta" doc shorts block kicks the festival off this Friday, March 15th at 5:00 PM. We might see another screening pop up, but don't wait to find out– get your tickets for this one now.
  • "Change in the Game"
  • "The Girl with the Tuba"
  • "Guidestones"
  • "Out of Stone"
  • "Speakeasy Supper-Club"
  • "When the Zombies come"

Miscellaneous Georgia shorts

Catch more Georgia on screen in any of these short films. Some screen in blocks, others in front of features. Check the schedule for more information and go support our state!
  • "Bar Betting"
  • "Blood of Man"
  • "Conrad Fails at Normal"
  • "Exuberant Discord in Motion"
  • "A Family Affair"
  • "Grand Fugue on the Art of Gumbo"
  • "Horseman"
  • "Kelly"
  • "LaDonna"
  • "Magic the Gathering: The Musical"
  • "Matters of Bioluminescense"
  • "Restitution"
  • "Sol"
  • "Sweet, Sweet Country"
  • "Visualize Something Beautiful"

Check out the full schedule and get your tickets at www.atlantafilmfestival.com.