August generally deserves its reputation as the doldrums of the year in movies, and Hollywood fare has proved even more derivative than usual in 2010. This month includes the sequels Step Up 3D and Piranha 3D, for instance, which would be great if only they were combined as one movie.
Fortunately, Atlanta's Festival League offers about 350 chances to break out of the mainstream movie malaise with Independent Film Month. The month of August includes events from the groups that comprise the Festival League — Atlanta Shortsfest, Atlanta Horror Film Festival, DocuFest Atlanta and Atlanta Underground Film Festival — while cross-promoting such programs as Best of the CinErotic Film Festival, the Center for Puppetry Arts' Film Series and the Peachtree Village International Film Festival.
Eric Panter, curator of the AUFF and director of events for the Festival League, speaks passionately about the fare on tap for Independent Film Month. "We don't want something just like what played at Regal Hollywood 24. We love films that break the rules of major Hollywood productions. We want ones that you can't forget and you'll talk about the next day with your friends," says Panter.
The Festival League originated in 2002 as a group devoted to producing free interdisciplinary events involving film, music and art. In 2004, its focus shifted to annual festivals, beginning with that year's AUFF. Panter says that the League chose August because AUFF has always been the last week of this month. "We're also producing the fourth Costa Rica Film Festival in November and the first Puerto Rica Film Festival in April 2011."
Panter acknowledges that as the festivals have expanded over time, they've been forced to grow more selective, particularly with local films. "When we started, we had the attitude that 'If you're local, you're gonna get screened.' Now we really have to think about the audience, which might see one that's not so good and think, 'Oh, that sucked, so the whole festival must suck.' This year, local films are about 10 percent of the programming," he says.
Panter has hopes to build on Independent Film Month until it becomes the largest film event in the world. At the very least, he says, "As we grow, we want every organization involved in Atlanta film to do something, whether it's a workshop, a panel or a screening." Panter identifies his personal favorites of the films in each festival in the following preview:
When: Aug. 6-8
Where: The Plaza Theatre, Highland Inn Ballroom
What: 91 shorts grouped in programs such as "What About Love," "The Lighter Side of Comedy," "Family Histories" and "Animation Attack!"
Recommended: Dennis Hauck's "Sunday Punch": "It's about a girl and a boxer, and shot in 35 mm. Everything about it — the acting, the production — is really good. All of the 'Animation Attack!' program is great. I also love 'Manhattan Mermaid,' in our 'Experiments in Shorts' program. I can't explain how he did it, but Tristan Von Christian filmed scenes of mermaids swimming through the city, and it's a live-action film. He submitted it to DocuFest, but it's definitely not a documentary. We contacted him to say we wanted to show it at Shortsfest, and he told us, 'For me, these mermaids are real.'"
Atlanta Horror Film Festival
When: Aug. 13-15
Where: Spring4th Center
What: The 100 features and short thrillers, horror flicks, dark comedies and other genre fare of the fourth annual festival will include plenty of blood and guts, but also provide more than just gore.
Recommended: David Kemker's dark comedy Zombie Dearest: "It's the only one that'll be screened twice, at the Horror Festival and AUFF. 'Zombies and Cigarettes' is my favorite [horror] short. It's funny, action-packed and probably has a huge budget. Satan Hates You is a parody of Christian scare films, with Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister from Phantasm and other horror stars. We almost didn't show it, because it gets kind of creepy at the end, and you wonder if they're really preaching, or commenting on the Christian scare scenario. It's definitely funny to see the religious aspect to horror film. It's on a double bill with God Thinks You're a Loser, which is hilarious."
When: Aug. 17-22
Where: The Carter Center, the Woodruff Arts Center
What: The fifth annual showcase of nonfiction film presents approximately 40 features as well as a shorts program.
Recommended: Documentaries about artists provide a running theme at DocuFest, including The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls about two lesbian singers from Australia, and Roll Out, Cowboy, about Sandman, the rapping cowboy. "Also, A Film About Races presents a series of events that test questions like 'Are black people better at sports? Are white people better at other things?' Some people might think it's offensive for them to raise the question, but they're commenting on stereotypes in a funny way."
Atlanta Underground Film Festival
When: Aug. 27-29
Where: Eyedrum, the Goat Farm
What: The seventh annual festival of films from off the beaten path features more than 100 shorts and features.
Recommended: The comedy double feature Disney Shot Kennedy (filmed in Atlanta with contributions from local artists such as R. Land) and Americatown's satire of the U.S. of A. Panter also points to Stefan Popescu's Nude Study: "Talk about pushing the envelope — it's very sexy and provocative, but the sexuality is almost secondary to the relationship between the main characters."