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There's something for all tastes at Atlanta Film Festival

POSTED: March 21, 2013 1:00 a.m.

The Atlanta Film Festival burst into action last weekend, with the much heralded Matthew McConaughey starrer “Mud,” a funny, touching ensemble comedy called “Claire’s Cambodia,” and a sneak preview of the Sundance Channel’s first original, scripted series, “Rectify,” which was created by Georgia’s own Ray McKinnon and films in Griffin.

As always, between the higher profile films the 2013 festival intersperses dozens of features and shorts that may come with less fanfare but frequently surprise.

The festival looks to close strongly, too. The remaining slate of films includes a number of promising narrative and documentary features, music video and shorts blocks, a block of shorts sponsored by Women in Film & Television Atlanta devoted to women directors, and panels and workshops for those hoping to get started or advance in the industry.

If you plan to head to the festival, here are a few films you shouldn’t miss.

One of the highlights Friday night is the documentary “Scarred but Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin N Cryin.” Director Eric Von Haessler follows the great Georgia band on its 25th anniversary tour, exploring its history and pondering why Drivin N Cryin, with its amazing catalog of albums and devoted following, has never achieved worldwide fame. It turns out that question leads to many others.

If Westerns are more to your taste, the outstanding “Dead Man’s Burden” shows a little later Friday. Set in 1870 and within the divisive specter of the Civil War, the film chronicles how greed and conflicting loyalties can tear a family apart.

Exquisitely shot and acted, “Dead Man’s Burden” is an indie with the production values of a major Hollywood production. It showcases the landscape of the American West in ways that would make John Ford proud and climaxes with an ending that will leave you breathless.

Saturday offers numerous intriguing films, but likely none will be more powerful than “Submit the Documentary,” which confronts the issue of cyberbullying head on.

During the opening sequence, an interviewee asks, “If we wouldn’t accept offline behavior, then who ever said we should accept it online?” One thing the documentary does devastatingly well is make the similarities between physical bullying and cyberbullying more tangible than they seem to be in the national dialogue.

Since cyberbullying happens via social media and texts, it’s easy to dismiss its effects. However, we have learned through the tragic suicides of many young people that it can be just as damaging as physical bullying.

In fact, cyberbullying is in ways more harmful than physical bullying. It allows for an unlimited number of bystanders to join in the bullying, and while most physical injuries heal, some emotional scars never do.

“Submit the Documentary” is a deeply affecting call to action. This is a film you must see, whether you have children or not, because sooner or later either you or someone you know will be affected by it. Because while the documentary focuses mostly on the effects of cyberbullying on young people, where it is most rampant and destructive, plenty of cyberbullying targets adults.

“Submit the Documentary” is a difficult but absolutely vital viewing experience.

The festival closes with the Georgia debut of “The Spectacular Now,” the latest film by Athens native James Ponsoldt. This tale of teen love drew rave reviews at both the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals, two of the most influential festivals in the U.S.

In fact, “The Spectacular Now” might be the buzziest independent film of 2013. Some are even predicting it will revive the teen movie genre.

Ponsoldt will be in attendance, and tickets to this screening are bound to be in high demand so you will definitely want to purchase them in advance. This is more than the chance to support a native son. This is a chance to see what is shaping up to be one of the best films of the year.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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