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Indulge in Georgia-bred films
Georgia native Gary Weeks wrote and starred in his post-WWIII movie, "Deadland," that was filmed in South Georgia.

Atlanta Film Festival
When: Thursday-April 25 with screenings throughout the day; "Deadland" shows at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Monday; "Killer Movie" shows at 9:50 p.m. Monday and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta (in Midtown)
How much: $10 for general screenings; closing night gala is $35 and open to the public
More info: 678-495-1424

The Atlanta Film Festival begins tonight and runs through April 25, and it promises to highlight homegrown talent while serving as a launching pad for films from around the world.

The festivities kick off in impressive fashion with tonight's Opening Night Gala, featuring the world premiere of "The People Speak." The documentary screens at 7:30 p.m. in the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University, after a red carpet reception.

"The People Speak" is inspired by Howard Zinn's book, "The People's History of the United States." Major moments in U.S. history are recreated by actors and musicians, including Josh Brolin, Marisa Tomei, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, Viggo Mortensen, Jasmine Guy, Michael Ealy, Bob Dylan, Eddie Vedder, Chris and Rich Robinson and more. Brolin, Mortensen, Guy, Ealy, Vedder, the Robinsons, Zinn and others associated with the film will attend the screening and gala that follows.

The remainder of the festival screenings will be at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. The schedule offers high-profile films using the festival to generate interest prior to wide release, including "That Evening Sun" (Hal Holbrook and Ray McKinnon), "Moon" (Sam Rockwell) and "500 Days of Summer" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel).

But the festival has always striven to showcase regional artists, and this year two features in the Georgia Film category seem particularly interesting.

In "Deadland," written by and starring Georgia native Gary Weeks, a man (Weeks) battles the elements and martial law in post-WWIII America on a quest to reunite with his wife. Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Weeks returned to Quitman County to film in locations he had known since childhood. Weeks said the set had a reunion atmosphere.

"The film was a chance for me to see a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a long time," he said in a phone interview. Much of the cast and crew were West Coasters making their first trip to Georgia, and Weeks said he has never seen people put on bug spray as thick as his friends from California.

"Of course, part of that was my fault, since we shot in South Georgia in August."

Weeks pointed out with a chuckle that he wanted to shoot in Georgia because of his attachment to the people and the beauty of the landscape, yet they had to make it look like a war had just happened. They managed to do just that. Weeks is also an avid Georgia Bulldogs fan, and some of the film's characters bear names (Pollack, Tereshinski, and Shockley) that will be familiar to many in North Georgia.

Weeks, director Damien O'Steen and co-star Brian Tee will attend the festival.

Jeff Fisher is another filmmaker with Georgia ties who will be showing a film at this year's festival. He worked in reality TV for nearly 10 years but recently relocated to Atlanta.

"I was just really taken by the city," Fisher said in a phone interview. He drew on his reality TV experience to write and direct "Killer Movie," a comedy/horror hybrid about a masked killer who preys on a reality TV production.

Fisher said he used the horror scenario to satirize the reality genre, especially the conflict created when the locals don't want the film crew in their town and the confessionals that have become a cliché of the genre.

"Killer Movie" features many actors who have recently gone on to bigger things, including Leighton Meester, Kaley Cuoco, Nestor Carbonell and Paul Wesley. Fisher said he was lucky and grateful to assemble the cast just before so many of them became "less available."

Atlanta actors appear in numerous other festival films, including the family drama "Mississippi Damned," which features area talents Jasmine Burke, Maria Howell, Michael Beasley, Donna Bisco, Tina Weatherbee and Mark Wilson, all of whom will attend the festival.

The festival can get a tad pricey, but there is no better way to get a glimpse of the Georgia movie scene, which is more exciting right now than it's ever been.

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