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Atlanta Film Festival all about Georgia

Fest's documentaries reveal ATL's quirky cast of characters



The state's recent boom of film and television production has given Atlanta the star treatment. The rise of "ATLwood" injects cash into the Georgia economy, provides work for local screen professionals, and generally lends the city a little glamour.

The high-profile movies and shows filmed in Atlanta have shown little insights about Atlanta, however. Many local productions don't take place here, so our hometown served as a stand-in for Memphis with The Blind Side, the interiors of Rio de Janeiro in Fast Five, and more. It's always fun to play find-the-local-landmark, like seeing Johnny's Hideaway in Hall Pass or downtown Atlanta as an apocalyptic hellscape — even more than usual — on that zombie show. Collectively, the productions imply that Atlanta has such a generic appearance, it can pass for places all over the world.

This year's Atlanta Film Festival presents movies that reveal the city's personality. In its 36th year, the festival has programmed more than 50 films with Georgia connections and introduced the Atlanta Gem series, which exhibits a locally filmed movie at a treasured venue like the Plaza Theatre. In particular, some of the Atlanta Film Festival's documentaries turn the spotlight on the city's supporting cast of true originals.

Maybe nowhere in Atlanta can you find more raw, unvarnished character than at the legendary titty bar the Clermont Lounge, as revealed in AKA Blondie (March 25, 9 p.m., Plaza Theatre). "At the Clermont, there's room for pudge," remarks a dancer (not Blondie) whose age and body type would bar her from the swanky clubs that made Atlanta the strip club capital of the South. Jon Watts' documentary focuses primarily on the Clermont's all-around diva Blondie, aka Anita Rae Strange, famed as a dancer, poet, and local legend.

Thanks to the peculiar nature of her notoriety, Blondie has hobnobbed with celebrities ranging from Willie Nelson to Marilyn Manson and even fought aliens as a comic book character. In on-camera interviews she speaks candidly about her bisexuality, cocaine use, and experiences with prostitution, plus offers a lesson in her signature move, how she crushes beer cans between her breasts without injury.

Watts employs well-crafted, home-movie-style footage of a young woman as Blondie mentions her childhood in predominantly white schools and the ballet lessons that helped shape her "Tina Turner legs." Unfortunately, the film doesn't have family members or old friends to fill in the blanks or otherwise confirm her life story, so we're left with hints of big conflicts, including that Blondie and her late brother dated the same guy, and that her mother's an evangelist. A friend who describes himself as Blondie's "gay husband for two weeks" says she over-romanticizes her childhood and gets worn down trying to live up to the Blondie persona. AKA Blondie doesn't offer a strong narrative, but it does give audiences a chance to get to know the dancer without crossing the Clermont's doorstep.

Like AKA Blondie, The Booker (March 28, 7:15 p.m., Landmark Midtown Art Cinema) centers around a compelling and voluble individual, in this case Stephen "Platinum" Scarborough, the booker and driving force behind Platinum Championship Wrestling. A former wrestler who grappled as an evil lawyer, "The Lethal Litigator," Scarborough spends years trying to turn his professional wrestling venture to a viable alternative to the WWE.

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