Often, you’ll hear people say an event had an “atmosphere.” It’s a “special time and place.” It’s the idea that there may be words to describe what occurred, or how it occurred, but not how it felt.

Sidewalk Film Festival, held annually in downtown Birmingham’s Theatre District, is one such event: you really can’t describe how it feels. And don’t take my word for it: in the past, Sidewalk has been labeled one of the “Top Ten Festivals for the Rest of Us” by Time Magazine, and one of “Ten Great Places for a Fabulous Film Festival” by USA Today.

This past weekend, thousands gathered in Alabama’s Magic City to learn, network, and enjoy some of the most innovate new feature-length narratives, documentaries, and ‘shorts’ that the independent film community has to offer.

Films of all lengths, budgets, and styles were shown over the course of three days, including many films by Alabama natives, and some produced entirely in Alabama.

In addition to screenings, there were a plethora of Q&A panels with film and talent professionals from Hollywood and beyond, educating the local filmmaking community on topics ranging from networking, directing, screenwriting, and more. Also, amidst the visual-medium dominance, many musical acts added to the palpable atmosphere, filling the streets with tune and comradery.

Friday evening opened the seventeenth annual film festival with a great deal of fanfare, including speeches by the Sidewalk staff, key contributors, and the mayor of Birmingham, William A. Bell. Following the initial speaking was a screening of “Raiders! The Story of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” which follows three young boys in the 1980s who remade “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” shot-for-shot, using borrowed VHS camcorders and other equipment. Once the credits had rolled, the filmmakers, as well as one of the men involved in the making of the adaptation took the stage for a Q&A session. Guests then exited the mighty, historic Alabama Theater, and went into the two-block after-party, fully themed after the opening film.

Saturday and Sunday featured many films screened, panels held, and a certain eminence of rain unable to break the spirit built up from opening night. Notably, one Jacksonville State University student, Austin Lovelace, had his film, “Griswold the Elf,” screened with fantastic audience response as part of the “Teen Shorts” block held inside the McWane Science Museum, alongside nine other of the best films by young filmmakers from around the country. Regardless which of the nearly twenty venues you visited, quality and innovation in film could be seen, which, in the opinion of the author, showed a bright and promising future for film.

It’s an atmosphere that can’t be explained; an experience that must be had. For filmmakers, film lovers, and everyone in between, Sidewalk is one of Alabama’s hidden gems that shouldn’t be missed.

Michael Panik
Special to the Chanticleer

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