Tag Archives: Atlanta Film Festival

“Sing Sing” a Tender, Entertaining Testament to Redemptive Power of the Arts

The show must go on for maximum security prisoners participating in a rehabilitative theatre troupe in Greg Kwedar’s tenderly humane and moving real-life drama Sing Sing (A). Colman Domingo marvelously anchors the story as a long-time inmate on the verge of a clemency hearing who has become the central journeyman performer in an acting class coached by a character wonderfully played by Paul Raci. Sean San José is also splendid as one of the central prisoners, and many such as Clarence “Divine Eye” Maclin brilliantly play their true-life selves. Kwedar has a real eye for the humanity of the characters without ever overly sliding into sentiment, and there are funny touches in the original work the men rehearse and present (their populist work includes characters ranging from Hamlet to Freddy Krueger). Bryce Dessner’s cerebral music offers a wistful, delicate accompaniment to the story. Domingo steals the show with a feast of a performance, and the whole ensemble shines with poignancy and panache. It’s a remarkable tale encouraging viewers to rethink perspectives and engage differently with men who may not have otherwise gotten their second act of redemption. It’s a fantastic entry on the 2024 film festival circuit certainly en route to Oscar glory.

Director Greg Kwedar describes the film to Silver Screen Capture on the red carpet of closing night at the Atlanta Film Festival 2024:

Hometown Glory: “The South Got Something to Say” a Highlight of Atlanta Film Festival

Both a venerable newspaper and a half-century of long-gestating music and cultural movement reclaim global relevance in the excellent documentary The South Got Something to Say (A), directed by The Horne Brothers as the first film created and curated by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. The film, presented this week in competition at the Atlanta Film Festival and now streaming on the newspaper’s website, has been hatched with the imprimatur and immediacy of immersive gonzo journalism. It is a testament to how news coverage can shape-shift with the times into a genre most befitting its subjects. This era-spanning oral history gives context to its story of musicians with a mission as it chronicles early days of hip hop in the 1970s through the eyes of Atlanta’s first rapper Mojo, the election of Maynard Jackson as the first Black mayor of the Southeastern city, the pall of the Atlanta Child Murders and the celebration following the apprehension of a perpetrator, the gentrification of events such as the Olympics and, most recently, protest movements in the light of a nation’s racial reckoning. Directors Ryan and Tyson Horne wisely structure and set their scene to authentically ground the family tree of music movements emerging from an unlikely place, including chart-topping earworms unleashed by eager and creative self-made mega-producers, music that emerged from unlikely places such as the projects and “dank dungeons” and pristine churches, plus crunk and trap soundscapes and innovations still evolving today. The movie’s title comes from the mic-drop moment at the 1995 Source Awards, as East and West coast factions feuding was the simmering cycle of the day, when Outkast member Andre 3000 proclaimed his part of the country the epicenter of the music movement, and his city’s creatives haven’t taken their feet off the pedal since, en route to global cultural dominance. The filmmakers blend anecdotes from artists who are lesser-known or potentially forgotten to time with some of the most renowned headliners on earth to spotlight the inspirations for their emerging sounds and how adjacent fashion, dance, lifestyle and self-expression trends all reflect deep roots in community. Speech, T.I., Dallas Austin, Princess, Killer Mike, CeeLo Green and the late Rico Wade are among the fascinating storytellers, showcasing history in interviews, archival footage, music videos, home movies and of course the enduring songs themselves. From afternoons gliding through nostalgia of skating rinks to peering at campus life at HBCUs to trialing new tracks at Magic City, plus life at concerts and cookouts, the movie expresses joy and its subjects’ will to be seen and heard. The devil comes down to Georgia in all the film’s rich details, from graphic identifiers reminiscent of old cassette tapes to a climactic event in downtown Atlanta depicted with immediacy from multiple points of view. Neither overly bossy nor glossy in its hot takes, the filmmakers stuff ample history into the movie’s shaking bounty. Shedding light and insight to creativity in constant motion, this definitive documentary is highly recommended.

Steamy Streamer “The Idea of You” a Hit of Atlanta Film Festival, Now on Prime Video

It’s time to say bye, bye, bye to myths about age gap relationships as a 40-year-old divorcee single mom embarks on a love affair with the 24-year-old frontman of a fictional hit boy band. Built on the star-powered shoulders of Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine, Michael Showalter’s rom-dram The Idea of You (B) is an enjoyable if not terribly original romp. Despite the fun and fantasy of the film’s premise, the director grounds the story in its lead characters’ humanity and the real-life complications dusted up in their unexpected collision. Hathaway is plucky and authentic as an art gallery curator, and Galitzine is a natural charmer and singer in his role as a superstar. Together they make for a steamy duo. The protagonist’s impulse to keep the romance secret including from her teenage daughter presents some silly subplots, while the through-line of self-doubt and sabotage is very relatable. Many finely observed moments abound in this mostly mainstream fare, and the leads buoy its believability. This movie is pure paperback poolside reading in filmed form and promises to make a delightful date night viewing.

June Squibb Shines as Spunky Senior in Sundance Comedy “Thelma”

This is a last great gasp of mainstream Sundance Film Festival cinema in which a feisty independent-living grandma treks across L.A. to get even with a telephone fraudster who almost got the best of her. Josh Margolin’s Thelma (B) features a mighty performance by the wonderful June Squibb and another by the late, great Richard Roundtree as a friend from a neighboring nursing home with one last great adventure left in him as well. Fred Hechinger is a hoot as her technology enabling grandson, but Parker Posey and Clark Gregg don’t have much to do as his parents. The film is at its clever best as it follows a sleuthing spy type storyline, with hearing aid volume controls and GPS identity bracelets subbing in for the kinds of gadgets Q used to whip up in the lab. As Thelma, Squibb is a fully rounded character with spunk, sass and a sharp mind. The film fully humanizes her character, even though the script and story could have been much stronger. Still, it’s a fun lark and a great chance to watch Squibb and Roundtree whoop it up.

Modern Road Trip Movie “Little Brother” a Sentimental Surprise

The grand tradition of the dramatic road trip movie, so splendidly rendered in films such as Rain Man and Y Tu Mamá También, can add a new sentimental two-hander to its ranks in Sheridan O’Donnell’s Little Brother (A-), an intimate and inspiring indie that world premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. Jake, portrayed by Daniel Diemer, has been tasked by his father (J.K. Simmons) to reluctantly transport his suicidal older brother Pete, played by Philip Ettinger, home for a family intervention. The dynamic between the central brothers in motion through a brittle journey to face their sometimes fractured bond, is thoroughly captivating, alternately heartbreaking and hilarious; and their pathway through the gorgeous West in locations such as Albuquerque and Twin Falls makes for an enjoyable and enlightening ride. As Pete, Ellinger diffuses the effects of mental illness with humor and regression to juvenile highjinks to mask his inner tumult. He’s consistently absorbing and magnetic in the tricky part. As the sometimes stoic straight man, Diemer has a tough role too and slays it with steely restraint. His tender depiction of abiding brotherly love is also sublime. When the siblings come to breakthroughs in how to confront and reconcile mental distress that’s not likely to vanish from looming large, O’Donnell continues to nourish the story with direction and dialogue which is rarely reductive or overly sentimental. This is the kind of movie that can save lives, and its notions of making the most of one’s lived experience and savoring the familial bonds to lift us when most needed have the power to deeply move.

2022 Atlanta Film Festival Features 27 World Premieres

The 46th annual Atlanta Film Festival + Creative Conference (ATLFF) revealed key programming highlights, including Opening and Closing Night presentations and the full lineup of selected works from a record-breaking nearly 10,000 submissions. Highlighted by the Opening Night presentation of 892 and Closing Night film Mija, 11 Marquee screenings will combine Hollywood star power with the best of independent film. The 155 total announced creative works from submissions will feature diverse filmmakers who continue to uplift voices and stories from around the world. The film festival and educational conference will take place Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, May 1, 2022, at multiple venues in Atlanta and virtually.

“We’re particularly excited about this year because we are not only back to in-person screenings, but our hybrid format will provide even more opportunities for audiences to participate around the globe,” said Christopher Escobar, Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Festival. “A huge part of our ethos is advocating for diverse voices, which is why it’s even more important that we continue to evolve and connect with communities everywhere in new and innovative ways.”

Kicking off a robust slate of Marquee programming that will be presented throughout the 11-day festival, the Opening Night presentation of Bleecker Street’s dramatic thriller 892 will take place at the Plaza Theatre on Friday, April 22. Starring John Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, and Connie Britton, the film follows a Marine war veteran who faces mental and emotional challenges when he tries to reintegrate back into civilian life. Director Abi Damaris Corbin will be on-hand for the red carpet screening.

The Closing Night presentation of the Disney+ documentary Mija will be held on Saturday, April 30, at the Plaza Theatre. Directed by Isabel Castro, the film follows Doris Muñoz, who began a career in music talent management and met Jacks Haupt, an auspicious young singer, and both share the ever-present guilt of being the first American-born members of their undocumented families.

Some highlights of the Marquee programming from celebrated filmmakers and Hollywood studios announced today include narrative features Cha Cha Real Smooth starring Dakota Johnson and written and directed by Cooper Raiff (the triple threat behind one of this site’s favorites, the comedyShithouse), Emily the Criminal starring Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi, and Summering, a coming of age story directed by Georgia-native and celebrated ATLFF alumni James Ponsoldt. Documentary feature highlights include Look At Me!, an inside look at a gifted young rapper’s tumultuous rise to fame before his death at the age of 20, with never-before-seen footage as XXXTentacion’s inner circle speaks out, and REFUGE, a story about fear and love in the American South from local Atlanta directors Erin Levin Bernhardt and Din Blankenship.

The 12th annual Creative Conference, ATLFF’s popular educational programming extension, returns with in-person panel discussions and one-on-one in-depth virtual conversations focusing on screenwriting, showrunning, pitching shows, podcasting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing with industry experts from Georgia to NY and LA. The entire Creative Conference lineup of over 25 events will be announced in the coming weeks. 

ATLFF 2022 will be more accessible than ever, offering a mix of in-person and virtual screenings, as well as virtual Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Screenings will be held at three venues, including Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE), Dad’s Garage (569 Ezzard St SE), and The Carter Center (453 Freedom Parkway), with more to come. All virtual screenings and events will be presented via Eventive.

The full schedule of films and events is available atwww.AtlantaFilmFestival.com and through the ATLFF 2022 app. Festival passes are on sale now on the site. Tickets for individual events will be available at the beginning of April. In-person screening tickets range from $12-50; virtual access is $9.99 per film/panel with an unlimited virtual all-access pass for $85 for both films and Creative Conference. Virtual all-access pass will increase to $100 after Friday, April 1.

“Blindspotting” is a Fresh Story About Modern Times

Oakland is woke-land for a duo of friends looking to flip the script on clean living and justice in Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting (A-). Daveed Diggs of Hamilton and Rafael Casal parlay rap, poetry and spoken word into a creative indie about two blue collar bros trapped in conflicting narratives after a late-night shooting. The humor is sweet and the drama sobering as the co-stars (also co-writers) address race, identity and gentrification in a brisk and frisky production. The film’s frantic pace, bubblegum colors and lyrical landscapes lure viewers into an eccentric and exquisite singular urban atmosphere. Diggs is superb and rises to the challenge of one iconic sequence in particular that truly tests the charismatic chops he showcased on NYC stages. Casal channels a young De Niro as his fierce foil, balancing rage and tenderness in grand doses. Wonderful actresses Janina Gavankar and Jasmine Cephas-Jones are highlights in the supporting cast, balancing all the testosterone in some clever conversations. A split second or two that are too on-the-nose, including split screens, threaten to make some of the motifs a bit too obvious; but overall, it’s a stunner. Come for the buddy comedy, and stay for the message. Despite the timely topics and hefty themes, it’s optimistic and will become a talked-about touchstone.

A hit at Sundance, the film was the opening night presentation at the Atlanta Film Festival. It premiered everywhere July 20, 2018 and is now available for purchase or rental.

 

Blindspotting review published 4/13/18

“Everybody Wants Some!!” Is Great Ensemble Comedy

everybodyThe “some” of all things that Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (A) purports all people desire is becoming part of a loving and supportive community. Not really a spoiler if you admire this writer/director like I do! For the Texas student athletes hazing each other in the random days before university classes start, you’d never guess that this oft-imbibing tribe is an enduring community; but leave it to Linklater to capture a note-perfect ode to love and friendship. Blake Jenner is superb as the wide-eyed protagonist freshman, always equipped with a quip and the grip of an all-star baseball pitcher’s outstretched arm of gratitude. Glen Powell is a standout among a perfectly cast cavalcade of jocks as the wise, witty and literate ring-leader. And Zoey Deutsch scores one for the ladies’ team as a compelling theatre major love interest and perfect foil for all the frat-tactic acting out. Linklater’s fluid, episodic and unforced structure is just dandy for the lazy last days of summer as the college kids put on their different hats and try out different roles, quite literally in the dance clubs, country watering holes, house parties and dugout. The characters are sharp and funny and just vulgar enough to still be charming; and the through-line of tender acceptance and blossoming connections is a delight. The nostalgic ’80s vibe is perfectly evoked and the dreadful bro-couture consistently hilarious. Oneupmanship as the ultimate bond of brotherhood is carried out in sequences involving bongs, ping pongs and ’80s songs, often to revealing effect. The film is being billed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, but it is really a continuation of the art of new love explored in the Before trilogy, the coming of age encountered in Boyhood and the rag-tag ensemble shenanigans of School of Rock. It’s a lark with lots of heart, and that’s quite an art.

Here on the Atlanta Film Festival red carpet premiere junket, I ask two of the film’s stars – Will Brittain and Blake Jenner – about on-set pranks and whether they like the performing arts or sports parts of the movie best:

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40th Anniversary Atlanta Film Festival 2016

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The 40th Annual Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) has announced the full lineup of film, educational and special programming and events that will take place from April 1 – 10, 2016.

Of the nearly 5,000 film submissions for the 2016 festival, the final lineup includes 51 feature length films and 100 short films representing 37 countries. The ten-day event will be highlighted with Opening and Closing Night presentations and galas, eight Marquee screenings events, 37 Creative Conference events and over a dozen unique Special Presentations and events.

Scheduled talent appearances, including director Rob Burnett (The Fundamentals of Caring), actors Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner and Ryan Guzman (Everybody Wants Some!!), director Chad Hartigan (Morris from America) and actor Wendell Pierce (HBO’s Confirmation), will also take place throughout the festival.

From more than two dozen films with production or filmmaker ties to Georgia to anniversary-themed editions of beloved annual ATLFF events such as “Food On Film,” the 2016 fest will celebrate more than four decades of film and educational programming in the state of Georgia.

The Atlanta Film Festival is the annual centerpiece of educational and enriching film programing that is atlanta film festival2provided year-round by parent organization, the Atlanta Film Society.

Christopher Escobar, ATLFF Executive Director said, “We’re working harder than ever to hold our festival in places unique to Atlanta. In everything from retro film presentations to special homecoming guests and original branding, we’re paying homage to the last four decades. And like our founders set out to be in 1976, we’re especially committed to creating an opportunity for independent voices to be heard and celebrated.”

For more information about the Atlanta Film Festival and full schedule of film screenings and events, visit www.atlantafilmfestival.com. Passes for the festival are available for purchase now on the website. Individual screening tickets are now on sale.

“I Am Michael” an Intriguing Drama

Justin Kelly’s I Am Michael (B+) is a gripping true story about a gay magazine editor who has a series of revelations that lead him to attempt to alter his sexual orientation. Fully realized by James Franco, the title character is complex and sympathetic as he wrestles with issues of faith and identity. The quirky actor should be commended for courageousness in a mature and layered performance and in behind the scenes work to get this fascinating story told. The film’s reverse coming out story with a main character who transforms from player to prayer coupled with the filmmakers’ unwillingness to be reductive leads the narrative down unexpected and rewarding paths. As the protagonist’s love interests, Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts are effective foils for what seems like a folly. It’s all sensitively handled and executed with earnestness. What could have fallen into a Reefer Madness style propaganda film about the ex-gay movement actually lifts up nuance as a core asset and provides fodder for thought.

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“Fried Green Tomatoes” is Ripe for the Viewing

Jon Avnet’s Fried Green Tomatoes (A) offers a whistlestop whirlwind into the universal truths of friendship, sisterhood and possibly a whole lot more under the surface of women in the South. Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy are appealing in the framing modern-day empowerment story, but it’s the flashbacks centering on rascally restaurateurs played by Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson that really take hold of the imagination. Several subplots that aren’t fully sketched are eclipsed by the overall emotional impact of a journey that showcases the power of secrets and sacrifice.