I just came back from jurying the Shout (LGBT section) of the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham Alabama. It was my first time going to the South and people were saying, “Why would you go there?” Also dubbed the Magic City, Birmingham happened also be a city that didn’t have the best civil rights records in history. In 1961, a mob of KKK members attacked a busload of Freedom Riders with bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains. In 1963, four young African American girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
I learned all about the history of the city after visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute recommended by the star Mimi Stern-Wolfe of All the Way Through Evening, a documentary about Mimi who devoted much of her life to putting up an annual concert of works by composers lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City.
“I guess Birmingham really made up for its shady racial history by erecting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute,” said Mimi. “It’s really the best thing in the city. You’ve got to visit it.” My fellow juror Andrea Krauss and I visited the museum and were both impressed by how important and well done the extensive exhibit was.
The hot ticket of the festival was Craig Zobel’s Compliance that premiered as a Spotlight Film at the historic Alabama theater filled with a full house of 2000+ film enthusiasts on a Saturday afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie sitting next to my host Billy Ray Brewton, also the head programmer for Shout. We were both laughing and having a good time while several audience members walked out of the movie.
The only two other movies that I remember people walked out of were Henry the Portrait of a Serial Killer and Pier Palo Pasolini’s Salo. Was Compliance that intense? That had me puzzled. I talked to another friend who watched it in Seattle and he said that some women also walked out of the theater. So I guess it wasn’t just in Alabama…
Starting three years ago, they have combined Shout and Sidewalk together into one weekend in Birmingham. It was a wise idea because both festivals really helped to bring communities, film enthusiasts and filmmakers together. I thoroughly had a great time meeting and hanging out with fellow filmmakers in a laid-back atmosphere.
We had our jury meeting Saturday morning where they made us perform a little script about our jury obligations. Filmmaker Morgan John Fox, Andrea Krauss and I were on the Shout jury and we gave out three cash prizes to three LGBT films: Best Shout Documentary Feature, Best Shout Narrative Feature and Best Shout Short at the Sidewalk Awards Ceremony on Sunday night.
Overall, Birmingham was a very meaningful weekend and we flew back to Los Angeles totally exhausted with post festival blues.