Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lead Programmer For The Sidewalk Film Festival Rachel Morgan

Since its debut in 1999, filmmakers from across the country and around the world have come to Birmingham to screen their work at Sidewalk and have been thrilled to discover fresh, enthusiastic crowds eager to devour new independent cinema.

With nine venues located within Birmingham’s historic Theatre District (featuring the newly restored Alabama Theatre, a 2,200 seat movie palace built by Paramount in 1927), spontaneity rules the schedule of Sidewalk attendees. Low-priced weekend passes provide easy access to Sidewalk venues, encouraging attendees to seek out new films and sample programming they may not otherwise see. The result is a crowd rich in diversity and united in a hunger for new film.

In 2006, the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival was honored to recognize writer/director John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi for their more than two decades of collaboration in independent film, which includes such acclaimed indie classics as THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANETMATEWANPASSION FISHLONE STARLIMBO and the Sidewalk 2004 Opening Night Film, SILVER CITY.

Other past attendees of the festival include: John C. Reilly (CHICAGO, MAGNOLIA, TALLADEGA NIGHTS), Peter Gilbert (HOOP DREAMS), Amber Benson (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Mary Kay Place (THE BIG CHILL), Mary Lynn Rajbuski (24, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, SWEET HOME ALABAMA), Dash Mihok (THE THIN RED LINE, ROMEO + JULIET), Dan Myrick (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), Vincent Kartheiser (ER, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, ANGEL), Chris Gore (IFC,, Daniel Wallace (BIG FISH), Gill Holland (HURRICANE STREETS), Adrian Grenier (HBOs ENTOURAGE, Woody Allens CELEBRITY), Louise Fletcher (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOOS NEST), David Keith (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMEN), Chris Mulkey (TWIN PEAKS) and many more up and coming award winning filmmakers and stars.

From the Filmmakers’ Reception and the Filmmakers’ Retreat to a myriad of breakfasts, field trips, parties and galas, Sidewalk connects filmmakers. The atmosphere at Sidewalk is electric with creativity and collaboration as filmmakers and film-lovers mix and mingle between screenings, participate in panel discussions, grab a bite to eat at the Sidewalk Café, or simply enjoy a brew at the Sidewalk Music Café @ Speakeasy 1920.


• One of Chris Gore’s BEST VACATION FILM FESTIVALS in the Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide.

• "BEST KEPT SECRET" in MovieMaker Magazine.

Did you always want to work in the film industry?

Yep, I always wanted to do something related to film - ever since I was a little kid though it took me a while to realize that such was possible.

What inspired you to work at the Sidewalk Film Festival?

Hmmmm by default I suppose. Sidewalk is the only Festival in Birmingham (and coincidentally one of the best in the world) and when I moved back to Birmingham several years ago I wanted to be involved with the Festival as I was pursuing my Masters in film and had been working in the industry for a while and love film. So I served on the screening committee for Sidewalk and then was asked, about 2 years later, to co-program (with my programming partner Kyle McKinnon) the Festival and, of course, I thought it would be fun and agreed.

What is the best thing about programming a festival?

It is like making a huge mixed tape (but with films) and for a lot of people - which is pretty fun. I also really like seeing everything come together - seeing all the films that you have been looking at and thinking about for 6 months, or more, come together and to town with the people who made them in the city where you live, it is pretty neat and kind of surreal. Also there is lots of free pizza.

Who is is your favorite filmmaker?

That is a difficult question - there is not just one I suppose - sometimes Gus Van Sant, in some ways Jonathan Glazer, I have on and off liked David Lynch a lot, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock are geniuses, P.T, Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Wes Craven... Patty Jenkins made a great freakin film, Jane Campion is amazing, so too many to list I guess.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Be as happy to be a Grip or Production Assistant (or similar) as you would to be a Director and work as hard at being a Grip, Production Assistant (or similar) as you would work if you were directing (as all are of equal importance anyway) and if you do that everything will work out.

What do you like to do besides programming the film festival?

I teach film full time at a community college and manage the media department, I co-teach one class (documentary film) at the University of Alabama and I occasionally go to the movie theater, ride my bike and read a book (or try to).

Have you had any other jobs before you started programming the festival?

Yes, I was a Boom Operator and an Assistant Editor and a Production Assistant and for many years a Producer, mostly, for advertising agencies and an Assistant Instructor and Instructor of all things media.

What sets your film festival apart for other festivals?

Many things sets Sidewalk apart I do think - filmmakers do not come to our Festival to sell their film, so it is not a high tension, ego heavy kind of environment. It is just fun and celebratory and we throw amazing parties - I know lots of festivals say that, but we really, really do. That is why lots of notorious indie film partnerships have formed at Sidewalk and even a marriage or two.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

American films - lots and lots of them - Birth is at the top of my list, it is an amazing film that I can watch over and over again and can talk for about for hours. General Orders No. 9 is life changing. The last 10 minutes of American Beauty blew my mind and I am still very much into it. Four Eyed Monsters is great, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street will always be true loves of mine. There Will Be Blood, The Royal Tenebaums. I also have interest in particular films and get real into them for a while and then, while I still love the film, move on to others - right now I am really into several of the films in Sidewalk 2011 - Without and Mary Marie come to mind. I have been thinking a lot about Blue Valentine lately as well and Tabloid was amazing. American Movie is terrific. Foreign films - I love Dogtooth and we have an amazing film in the Festival this year called The Robber. Let The Right One In, of course and Run Lola Run is brilliant. I could not possibly list all of my favorites. I do not really like the TV format, it is a bit overwhelming, but Beverly Hills 90210 rules.

How would you describe your film education?

Hmmm well I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for my undergraduate studies (in film and video) and it was one of the greatest times of my life. I went back several years ago and got my Masters in film critical studies and that too was amazing. I also feel as if every job I have ever had has been an education of sorts, so that is a difficult question to answer without boring you to death.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

Promising but difficult.

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

Social media has changed everything - not just indie film, but everything and I do not think for the best though it has its benefits and certainly it can help filmmakers and festivals in terms of inexpensive marketing. There are so many downsides to social media and I am very conflicted about its general impact. I think the verdict is still out.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

I am not sure

What is the film submission process like?

We use - filmmakers fill out the form(s) online and send in a screener (we have not moved to online screening yet, because the service is not yet functional for us). We have a committee of about 40 people - split in to docs, narratives and shorts and they help us (me and my programming partner, Kyle) sort through the 500+ entries that we receive every year.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

In a general sense I suppose that indie films tend to be more the vision of one person (or a few people) and mainstream, 'Hollywood' films tend to be the vision of lots of people - many stockholders trying to predict what will sell to the masses. That leads to a lot of little differences. Generally, I guess it could be compared to a handmade item versus an assembly line made item - some similarities, but one has more heart than the other.

You could go back in time and see any classic film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Any of them, that would be amazing. Seeing George Melies creating A Trip To The Moonwould blow my mind because of how strange and interesting film was at that time, The Lumiere Brothers shooting their first little bit of film because how incredible must it have been to see something like the moving image for the first time. Citizen Kane, of course, of course, of course because - Orson Welles and not much more is needed, that would be magical.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

There are about a hundred lines from Valley Girl that I try to incorporate into my everyday language. In the first 5 minutes of the film one of the characters says "like he is not so awesome" - there is no better way to describe something that is not so awesome. From there the film is packed with amazing lines/quotes. Also from The Wild Life (1984) the line "It's Casual" which was trying to be the "totally awesome" line from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but did not stick, perhaps because it was said by Chris Penn instead of Sean Penn, but it's casual.

You could have any super power. What would it be and why?

X-Ray vision of course - Las Vegas

What is your opinion on movie remakes?

I much prefer originality and I think that most current remakes do not do the original justice (let me site Rob Zombies blasphemous attempt at remaking Halloween), but I do like to see something done well and sometimes that happens, I enjoyed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, for example.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

They are often very good, they can be if done well. I tend to prefer interpretation to adaptation, it works out better. Maximum Overdrive was based on a short story by Stephen King called Trucks, That Evening Sun on a short story - short stories tend to serve as nice cinematic content as do songs (The Indian Runner is based on a Bruce Springsteen song). Also if it is a bad book why not - for example Twilight (yep, I am referencing Twilight) is a horrid book, but the films are sickly entertaining at least - go ahead hate, I referenced Twilight. So overall I have no problem with movie adaptations, it depends on the film and the book I suppose.

Thanks for doing the interview Rachel. For more information on the Sidewalk Film Festival check out