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Lower-key festival still holds gems

POSTED: April 21, 2010 11:30 p.m.
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Tony Shalhoub, left, stars as Sheriff Andersen in "Feed the Fish," one of the films featured at this year's Atlanta Film Festival.

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By the time you read this, the 2010 edition of the Atlanta Film Festival will be winding down. Today is the final day, with a full schedule of films, then the week wraps up Friday night with the Drive-By Truckers shindig.

The festival was slightly lower key than last year. 2009 offered foreign films featuring international stars Audrey Tautou, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. "(500) Days of Summer" played the festival, then went on to become a big hit. The opening night gala was attended by Josh Brolin, Eddie Vedder, Jasmine Guy, the late scholar/activist Howard Zinn and many others. The Mexican Consulate General co-sponsored the closing night screening.

This year’s festival might restore some of that flash by closing with a documentary about and a live performance by a local band gone big-time. But I think it’s safe to say AIFF 2010 didn’t offer quite as much "star power" as the previous year.

That’s not a bad thing. The festival stuck a little closer to its core mission this year, which is to support independent films that genuinely need the support. And if those films happen to be made in Georgia or the Southeast, all the better.

Not all indie films are created equal. The term "independent" is used to refer to films with multimillion-dollar budgets, films made for a few thousand dollars, films made with nothing more than promises — and all points in between.

Successful film festivals run the danger of being invaded by those bigger-budget indies that use festival showings to generate interest. It’s cheaper than buying television air time, and it lends the movies the aura of indie credibility.

But those films could probably afford other types of marketing. The Atlanta Film Festival is at its best when it provides an outlet for quality, truly independent films that might be overlooked if not for festivals. This year offered plenty of those undiscovered gems.

I wrote last week that revelations happen at this festival each year, and 2010 was no exception. Here are a few more of this year’s discoveries.

"The Last Survivor": This inspiring documentary follows survivors of four genocides and mass atrocities (The Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo). We witness their will not only to survive but to educate and prevent similar tragedies.

"The Adventures of Ledo and Ix" and "Ledo and Ix Go to Town": Ever wonder what video game characters do when we’re not around? Ledo and Ix are avatars in a combat role-playing game who wander around the virtual world in which they live, encountering creepy villagers who intone the same programmed dialogue repeatedly and reaching the dark, unknown edge of their video game backgrounds. Emily Carmichael animated these two witty shorts, and it turns out Carmichael is a Jill of all trades who has worked in live action shorts, comic strips and other media.

"The Battle for Bunker Hill": Fresh off serving a stint in prison for fraud, former Wall Street executive Peter Salem (James McDaniel) goes to a small town in Kansas to reconnect with his ex-wife Hallie (Laura Kirk) and two daughters. When the town suddenly loses power and all communication, Peter and Hallie are caught in a crucible of paranoia and fear as the townspeople try to find out why they have been cut off.

"The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek": What presents itself as a PBS-style documentary is actually an uproarious mockumentary about a pivotal Civil War battle in which a misfit Union regiment of 600 prevented a mercenary army 50 times its size from conquering Washington. It’s a one-of-a-kind, subversive satire that makes us laugh as it takes aim at social issues including race, gender politics and homophobia.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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