by George Barreto
Birmingham’s very own film festival this year included a multitude of genres and international films. These films also maintained smaller budgets, providing an exceptional platform for independent projects that would have otherwise gone largely unseen. From recognizable actors to new faces, each film is specifically curated by Birmingham-based organizers that have an immense love for cinema. Every film is given the attention and spotlight it deserves.
The festival continues to grow and flourish each year, and the 24th iteration was the biggest one yet. Like any festival, the coveted awards are the highly anticipated closer of the busy weekend. Each category has two winners: one decided by Sidewalk’s jury of film critics and the other voted on by the audience.
Documentaries had a large spotlight on them throughout the weekend. From Alabama-based documentaries to perspectives outside the Southeast region, this slate of films tends to be expansive.
Receiving a special mention by the festival was “Mija,” a documentary directed by Isabel Castro and a personal favorite of mine out of the whole weekend’s lineup. Dealing with imbued aspirations of generations past, it follows two young ladies of undocumented families trying to make it in the music industry as they come to terms with not only the sacrifice they must make but the sacrifice their families have made to get them there too. It’s a riveting portrait of a story that countless Americans can relate to.
The Best Documentary Award as chosen by the jury went to “Descendant,” directed by Margaret Brown. It follows the long-awaited discovery of the remains of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport enslaved Africans, and sparks a generational conversation among residents of Africatown — a community north of Mobile, Alabama — about the legacy it has left behind. This is a story that provides perspective on a community desperately grasping a link to their ancestors and the history that many have tried erasing.
Audience voting took place all weekend long. Once all the votes were counted, the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary went to “A Life on the Farm,” directed by Oscar Harding.
The narrative film category tends to hold gems to discover throughout the festival. The jurors selected “North Star” (dir. P.J. Palmer) as the winner of the Best Narrative Short Award and “Our Father the Devil (Mon Père, le Diable)” (dir. Ellie Foumbi) as winner of Best Narrative Feature. The latter film follows the head cook of a retirement home as she shelters a secret — that she was formerly a child soldier. Struggling to deal with the trauma, her world closes in on her as a figure from her past life manages to entangle himself in every aspect of the life she’s been carefully crafting.
The festival saw a lot of chatter about Alabama-based films in particular. “Redwood Summer” (dir. Rangeley Wallace) took home the jury’s Best Alabama Screenplay Award as well as their Best Feature Screenplay Award. The Alan Hunter Best Alabama Film Award went to “Butterfly in the Sky,” directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb. This film focuses on the beloved classic series “Reading Rainbow” and its equally beloved host, LeVar Burton. The series introduced a love of reading to a whole generation while emphasizing the importance of learning through the stories of others.
These are just a few of the movies that were shown at the festival. A full list of winners can be found on Sidewalk’s website, sidewalkfest.com. Give it a look and discover new and exciting stories. Follow that rabbit hole!