Pretty much the consensus
Last year, The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival was a source of several mishaps on my part; I was pranked into being escorted back to my hotel by a fake bouncer, cutting myself and bleeding profusely at the filmmakers’ farewell breakfast; and, in so doing, missing my flight back home. This year, I just missed my flight back home. Although not as many mishaps, this year’s Sidewalk proved to be just as memorable as last year.
I arrived in Birmingham and headed down to ground transportation just in time to catch up with two fellows I’ve become somewhat close to: Joe Swanberg and Aaron Hillis. Upon glancing over and seeing them retrieving their baggage, a devilish smile twisted my face. We’d last seen each other at the 2009 Maryland Film Festival and had a jolly good time.
Opening night reception atop Red Mountain
It was most certainly time to revamp that festival spirit. And what better place than high atop Red Mountain at a ritzy B-Ham attorney’s home? That ritzy attorney is David Shelby, a friend of the arts and a fan of independent film. A few days later he would tell me he’d never met a fellow attorney who’d been practicing alongside him in the ‘Ham for roughly thirty years. This same attorney co-owns a jet with Mr. Shelby.
First night and the tension is palpable. Photo by Michael Harring.
While I was schmoozing, I met filmmakers Michael Harring and Kirsten Marie Barber, who were premiering their film THE MOUNTAIN, THE RIVER AND THE ROAD. We ended up hanging out during the entire festival and became great friends. Sometimes you regret meeting and hanging out with new friends at a festival after finding that you can’t stand their film. For me, this was not one of those times. The film is captivating, beautifully shot, and filled with intimate moments that are heartfelt and sincere.
Immediately after the opening night reception, we headed over to the Brown Derby for karaoke and cheap drinks. The smoke-filled dive bar was crowded with regulars who looked at us strangely, as we entered. Although they knew in advance we were coming, they looked upon us as if we were aliens from another planet. One man offered a snide quip as I entered: “When will WE be in a movie” he asked with a snarky laugh. Most of them, however, completely ignored us, given there was some sort of sporting event being broadcast throughout the bar. Several of us left for the Bottle Tree, a hipster vegan establishment where we’d certainly fit in. Bottle Tree is a darkened concert venue inside, but has an amazing patio filled with festive lights and all kinds of cool stuff to look at. You can also play Foosball like me and Mike did (I kicked his ass). I especially like their bathroom because one of the stalls has a huge record cabinet occupying half of its space. The photo above captures the shared area of the bathroom. The photo below captures the wall of the bathroom at Al’s, a greasy, late night burger house that cooks to order. Needless to say, I had a rare bacon cheeseburger. And at $3.95, I was damn satisfied.
Bathroom at Al’s; Bacon Cheeseburger for $3.95, yo!!
The evening continued early into the morning at the abode of Aaron Hillis. James, Aaron and I discussed all sorts of things that evening. And I fell asleep. With a glass of wine in my hand. And spilled it all over Aaron’s sheets. Did I mention it was red wine? This is Aaron before I spilled the wine (you don’t want to see him after I spilled the wine):
Late night romp w/ Aaron Hillis
Filmmaker Luncheon at Bottega. Thank you Frank & Pardis Stitt for the delicious lunch! Photo Courtesy Sidewalk.
Chicken Le Fleuer at Bottega
The filmmaker’s luncheon came early and I needed a little hair of the dog. Several rounds of Bloody Mary’s and belly full of Chicken Le Fleuer at Bottega cured whatever ailed me quite quickly. Plus, I got to try on Mike’s bad ass sunglasses:
Adam rocks my shades. Photo by Michael Harring.
Next up was the filmmaker’s excursion. Last year it was first to look at a huge Vulcan cast iron statue, and then to the Sloss Furnaces to create our own cast iron creation; this year it was all about steel.
1969 Harley Davidson “Easy Rider” at Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum; Leeds, AL
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Leeds, AL is home to 1,200+ motorcycles. It’s collection ranges from the very first bikes to military issued to quite modern. The museum also sits on a race track that you’d swear ran right through a golf course-it’s that kept up. Following are a few more images from my visit.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum; Leeds, AL
1925 Pierce Four “The Vibrationless Motorcycle” Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum; Leeds, AL
1943 Harley Davidson W.L.C. at Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum; Leeds, AL
1962 Harley Davidson Topper at Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum; Leeds, AL
Back in Birmingham, we found ourselves overlooking the city, atop the Kress Building. After pounding a few Abita Restoration Pale Ale’s, I ventured over to the grits bar. Man, they had every topping one could possibly put on grits. Here’s mine with a view of the Alabama Theatre, right before the opening night film:
Grits w/ cheese, mushrooms, sausage, shrimp and pesto, topped w/ sugar-coated pecans, atop the Kress building, with a view of the Alabama Theatre!
Opening night film: BEST WORST MOVIE, a documentary chronicling the lives of the people involved with the making of the worst movie ever made. Despite being so bad, TROLL 2 has built up quite a cult following, especially since technologies in film distribution have lately made it that much more available.
Sidewalk 2009 BEST WORST MOVIE poster. Artwork by Daisy Winfrey.
Given I was already aware, and frankly part of, the phenomenon I was especially interested in seeing this film. I’d missed it at South by Southwest but heard really great things about it. Essentially, the film follows George Hardy, arguably the second most interesting TROLL 2 survivor (the most interesting survivor being his wife in the film and recluse in real life, Margo Prey), his life as a dentist in a small town, and the tour of TROLL 2 screenings the whole team has being doing all over the world. What makes George Hardy so impressive is not what he does now, long after his piss poor performance in TROLL 2 (man, I really like typing “TROLL 2.”); but his amazing stage presence. I mean, the man really should pursue acting again. He’s just such an overly genuine guy with the whitest, toothiest smile-you just can’t help but love to watch him, no matter what he’s doing.
Most fascinating, however, was when the actors finally wrangled the writers/director of TROLL 2 to the United States and we get to see their reaction to this whole craze. Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi have been making bad movies for years. Claudio’s “best” known work is collaborations with the late Bruno Mattei: sleazy exploitation films that attempted to capitalize on the success of wholly unrelated popular films. When asked in BEST WORST MOVIE why his movie is called TROLL 2 when “there are no trolls in the movie,” Claudio seems really dumbfounded; as if he were truly wondering why anyone would care what the movie was called. The actuality is that Claudio or his producers changed the name from its working title “Goblins” (which actually made sense because a) the family’s destination is Nilbog, and, more obviously b) the baddies were described as such in the film) in an attempt to tie the film to the quasi-successful TROLL. Other such marketing schemes include AFTER DEATH (a.k.a. ZOMBI 4), which followed his work on ZOMBI 3, an “in-name-only” sequal to ZOMBI 2 (which itself, is an unofficial sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (a.k.a. ZOMBI)); LA CASA 5 (a.k.a. EVIL DEAD 5), which followed two unrelated films, LA CASA 4 and LA CASA 3, that all capitalize as being unofficially part of the EVIL DEAD series (although LA CASA 5 is more reminiscent of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR); and SHOCKING DARK (a.k.a. TERMINATOR 2), which largely resembles ALIENS and attempts to capitalize on THE TERMINATOR. There’s a whole slew of other ripoffs; and what’s most amazing is that both of these men made their entire careers out of it.
If you’re feeling dizzy after reading all of that, then you’re in a similar state of mind as I was during the opening night after-party. As we embarked high atop the roof of the Redmont Inn, the lights were shining, the disco was blaring and the drinks were flowing! I found myself quickly on the ground floor, however, where the drinks were free and most of the filmmakers were congregating. Several of us talked for a few hours outside the hotel and, as we were just about to either fall over or go grab another late night burger, decided to play it safe and go up to our respective rooms and crash. I’m certain I missed some antics, but I was also able to catch up on some much needed sleep.
The next morning, I woke up and showered and hopped into a shuttle, just in time to make Mike and Kirsten’s film, THE MOUNTAIN, THE RIVER AND THE ROAD. As I stated above, the film is spectacularly shot. The meticulous attention to detail mesmerized me throughout the screening. It’s a far cry from the standard “mumbly” movie we’ve all become accustomed to on the festival circuit. Although the non-scripted spirit still persists, there’s something deep-rooted and sincere about the film. All the while remaining charming and sweet. We’re greeted with bold photography in one scene; our two heroes, Justin Rice and Joe Swanberg, are road-tripping in the mountainous environment of Washington. We see the car come around a bend; a beautiful mountain range in the distance. And we see it cross a bridge, as the rushing river flows underneath. Speaking of our heroes, the performances in the film are impressively delivered. Especially Tipper Newton, who play’s Justin’s love interest. In another scene, Justin and Tipper are sledding down a hill. The terrain is dark and all we see are the very intense, intimate moments between the two of them. It’s moments like these where we’re sutured in with charm in lieu of bold photography.
After the screening, I rushed out to catch a mockumentary about a man in love with Condoleezza Rice. COURTING CONDI is extremely funny but the dark turn it takes slammed my emotions against the wall, leaving me woozy and distraught. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
Me and my dear friend, Thomas (he’s the guy that would later help me miss my flight home. Again.) rushed out of the screening in an attempt to find food matter. At this point it was after 3PM and I hadn’t eaten yet! The lunch service at the museum, where the film screened, had already shut down for the day; the diner just outside the museum was closed; so we decided to walk through a nearby park and see what we could find. Sneaky Pete’s Hot Dogs was just beyond the park. And it was closed. There’s another diner over there. Wait, it’s closed. How about fast food? Chik-fil-A was also closed. Is nothing open on the weekends in downtown Birmingham? Finally, we ended up meeting up with Mike and Kirsten and Kyle McKinnon, who loves all of our films and programs them at the festival; and we all decided to head down to Five Points, where all the cool kids go, to grab some BBQ before the next movie. And while I didn’t actually have BBQ, I was in for a tasty treat. I’ll let the photos below tell the tale.
Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ in Five Points; Birmingham, AL
Big Dave’s Bacon & Pimento Cheese Burger w/ a side of Mac & Cheese at Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ; paired w/ a Reverend Mudbone Golden Ale makes for a filling treat!
Next up was Zack Godshall’s GOD’S ARCHITECTS, a stunning doc about five men who’ve been building elaborate structures and castles, all massive in scale and meticulous in detail, for decades, in the name of God. Floyd Banks, Jr. uses bricks he’s found or made to construct a vast network of castle perimeter walls in Greenback, Tennessee. Down in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Reverend H. D. Dennis has been adding on to his wife’s store, Margaret’s Grocery, for twenty-three years, on a promise to build her a castle if she’d marry him. He preaches the teachings of Jesus Christ to anyone who stops in-mostly in a school bus he’s converted into a chapel. Kenny Hill, of Chauvin, Louisiana doesn’t show up for the doc (Zack’s heard he just wants to be left alone), but we meet his neighbor and confidant, Julius Neil, who tours us around Hill’s statue and sculpture garden and lighthouse, known as “The Story of Salvation.” Speaking of, “Salvation Mountain” is home to Leonard Knight of Niland, California. Out in the middle of the desert, Knight has been painting the side of a mountain and constructing an environment of “God’s Love” since 1984, when his hot air balloon crash landed at the site. Finally, there’s Shelby Ravellette, a master stonemason and Freemason, who hails from the Ozark Mountains of Omaha, Arkansas. To honor his deceased daughter, Lacey Michele, Shelby has been building a castle, primarily out of stone, for nearly twenty years.
Check out pictures and video and find out more at Zack’s website: http://www.godsarchitects.com/
Immediately following, I got all spookified at a screening of Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. And yes, as Aaron Hillis rightly stated: it’s creepy as hell. The film takes place in the 80′s, and is basically a cross between horror-of-the-demonic and a slasher film. Ti doesn’t freak us out with cheap scares or unnecessary gore though; instead, he holds back and slowly consumes us with mystery and suspense. Its slow pace and long cuts are reminiscent of other horror films of the era; and yet somehow it’s also very new. Kudos for Ti for creating a truly suspenseful film that relies more on story and cinematic value than fast cuts and cheap thrills.
After the film, I found myself back in my hotel room just in time for a quick nap and a shower before changing into my track suit for the Saturday Night Bash: “Break to the Future” at Old Car Heaven. There was break dancing, an 80′s cover band, rapping, old cars on display (including a Delorean!), and tons of pizza and beer! Mike, Kirsten and I took the first shuttle back to the hotel; in-so-doing, we apparently missed out on all kinds of fun! Like last year, the Saturday night after party was at Rachel Morgan’s loft, directly across from the Sidewalk office. Think: arcade games, air hockey, framed screen shots from horror films, Star Wars sheets, and all sorts of cool 80′s knick knacks strewn all over the place. Allegedly the party was quite a time; and continued with a select group atop the roof of the Redmont Inn until sun up.
My own personal Plymptoon!
The next morning I heard all about it when I came down to the lobby and caught Hillis scarfing down salmon and eggs, or something. Apparently, he’d gone to bed around 8AM. It was now roughly 10:30AM. What a trooper. I meandered my way to a screening of Bill Plympton’s IDIOTS & ANGELS, grabbing a Polish sausage from a sidewalk (literally “sidewalk”; not the festival!) vendor along the way. The spoils of attending a Plymptoon is that… you get one! Shown above, I’m very happy to have my own personal “Guard Dog” (from his Oscar-nominated short). And, really, all I need to do is flip the post card over to describe his newest film. His words: “This asshole guy wakes up one morning with wings-and he doesn’t like it! Because the wings make him do good deeds. It’s man vs. wings! The film is rude, crude, dark, mysterious, surreal, David Lynchian, noir, funny and finished in 2008!”
Packed house at ST. NICK’s Sidewalk screening
The house was packed at our screening; but oddly enough I could hear crickets chirping back in Texas during the Q&A. Seriously, I think we answered like two questions. It’s really strange how vastly different each and every Q&A is. Luckily, we would soon feel the love at the awards ceremony. After my screening, I was anxious to get back to the hotel and finish my debut article for the Houston Bay area’s SCENE Magazine.
Carol Connors (she wrote the ROCKY theme song)
A few hours later I was at the award’s ceremony, and, after a southwest dinner catered by Rojo and a few drinks, witnessed an amazing performance by Carol Connors; as you can see from the photo above. Carol wrote the theme song to ROCKY; and she’s still got it! An outspoken and talented entertainer, Carol was a welcomed addition to the festival. Carol sang and danced and then there was a comedy show; and then on to the awards!
Accepting the the Mise-en-Scène Award for ST. NICK.
And ST. NICK wins the Mise-en-Scène Award, “for its use of cinematic language to tell a story through atmosphere, sound and bold imagery.”
See how nervous I really was, as I thank the jury for our award (James, on the other hand is succinct and clear!): http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1255542751143 – Thanks much to Mike for shooting the video!
The official after party was at The Garage, one of B-Ham’s favorite local hang-outs and named one of the “Top Ten Bars Worth Flying For,” according to GQ Magazine! This is the location of the infamous money-dropping, “I’ll produce your mooooovie” incidents of last year. This year I brought with me far less cash. And I didn’t get bounced either! I even confronted the female bartender I’d nagged about being my personal assistant last year. She says I offered $30k, but John White, a friend and champion of the festival-who’s not on Facebook and I don’t have his email so maybe Natalie can say “what’s up” for me?-told me I’d offered $75k. Either way, it was dumb and this year we laughed about it. And when I told her I was happily involved in a relationship, she chuckled and bought me a celebratory drink!
Here’s a few photos from the closing night celebrations, thanks to Mike and Kirsten.
Last party of the fest at The Garage. Kirsten, Donaghey, Michael Langan. Photo courtesy Michael Harring.
Last party of the fest at The Garage. Kirsten & Mike, Donaghey, Michael Langan, Natalie Hummel. Photo courtesy Michael Harring.
Hillis, Donaghey, Swanberg – Photo courtesy Kirsten Marie Barber
Donaghey, Mike Harring, John White, Hillis & Swanberg – Photo courtesy Kirsten Marie Barber
The night continued early into the morning on-you guessed it-the Redmont Inn rooftop bar. At one point, Sidewalk’s Twitter status was: “is listening to Adam Donaghey’s stories. He and Aaron Hillis should have tale-offs.” Who updates Sidewalk’s Twitter, anyway? After everyone else had left, me and James, Joe and the crew from the film, 45365, continued conversing and then found ourselves belting out ballads at the top of our lungs until the sun came up. We may have “found” a bottle of Jack lying around and we “might” have climbed on the Redmont sign. But there’s no evidence of either of this. There is evidence, however, of a beautiful sunrise over the ‘Ham; and here it is:
The next morning, on absolutely no sleep, I gathered my belongings and caught a shuttle over to the annual filmmaker’s breakfast at the Original House of Pancakes. And man do they have good pancakes. And eggs. And bacon. And just about anything else you can put into your mouth. Here are a few pics:
Breakfast at OHOP-I didn’t cut myself this year!
Donaghey and Merrie Lynn Ross (prod. CLASS OF 1984)
And then the long, drawn out adventure home. As I said at the beginning of this post, I missed my flight, as I did last year. Thomas, I don’t blame you. Okay, maybe I do. And I sorta blame you for last year as well. But I’ll take some of the discredit for that. This year, we were already forty-five minutes behind schedule, due to some sort of shuttle mishap. And then we got caught behind a train, while attempting to take a shortcut to bypass rush hour traffic, that’s never present in the ‘Ham. When I finally arrive at the airport, I rush to my gate, only to find there’s no plane waiting for me. Oddly enough, I’d met the customer service agent for Southwest at several Sidewalk parties. She was more than happy to put me on the final flight to Houston. I’d fly to Dallas and then to Houston with a forty-five minute layover. Simple. But wait; it gets better. My new flight’s delayed. Forty minutes. That would give me literally five minutes to get to the final flight from Dallas to Houston, upon arrival. Tension mounts as I get closer and closer to take off. Of course, I’m one of the last to board, so I pop into a seat between two less-than-excited men at the front of the plane. One of which I end up conversing with for the duration of the flight. He’s in stand-up comedy and wants to pursue acting-hey Tim! I make movies. Who would have thought? Anyway, the stewardess assured me she’d call Love Field so they knew I was coming in. Right before I get off the plane, she informs me she was unable to. I ran. I barely made it; but I made it. And then the long sigh of relief, as I fly the final fifty minutes to my destination. I’m met with open arms and I sleep like a baby.
Thanks so much for yet another great year at Sidewalk. I certainly hope to make it three years in a row in 2010! If you’re reading this on Facebook, tagged are all the people involved with the festival, my festival-going friends and those I met along the way.
My friend, Kenneth Price, filmed his entire Sidewalk experience. Here it is in 120 seconds: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=100534903301642
View all my Sidewalk pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=150654&id=598289154&l=9b09648728
View and purchase official Sidewalk photos here: http://sidewalkphotos.com/
Read all about the festival and submit for next year here: http://www.sidewalkfest.com/