The Atlanta Film Festival opens this year, and if life progressed along a rational road, I’d be there in the audience – but unfortunately I’m going to have to observe this one from a far. However, if you have the chance, you shouldn’t miss it. Atlanta is one of the oldest and most important film festivals in the South and always presents a great selection of feature and shorts, and, more so than any festival I follow, a wide variety of exciting special presentations. Here are my ‘can’t miss picks’ for ATLFF.

Above All Else – John Feige’s documentary made its premiere at SXSW and though it is shot in the forests, pastures and living rooms of rural East Texas, the issues here are universal. Subject David Daniel rallies neighbors and environmental activists to join him in a final act of brinkmanship—a tree-top blockade of the controversial pipeline, one man willing to risk it all to stop the tar sands of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from crossing his land. What begins as a stand against corporate bullying becomes a rallying cry for climate protesters nationwide. Beautifully shot and full of tension that only real life can supply, this is one of my favorite docs of the year so far.

Archer Live – This is an interaction live performance of the popular FX animated show Archer, featuring the all-star cast [H. Jon Bejamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnel, Lucky Yates] all in attendance and performing…live. This production has been touring the country for a few months and ATLFF brings it on stage/screen on April 4th as part of the festival (special ticket required)

Beside Still Waters – Atlanta Writer/Director Chris Lowell has had an amazing few months, with this, his debut feature premiering at Mill Valley Film Festival and taking both Jury and Audience Awards at Austin, in addition to starring in the new Fox sitcom Enlisted and being forsaken by Veronica Mars in the new feature. BSW is a funny and heartwarming film about a group of high school friends who return to the summer cottage of their childhood for one last weekend. Lowell and Co-Writer Mohit Narang should be in attendance last I heard.

Comedy Shorts – I always recommend you see some shorts if you head out to a film festival and if you find yourself with the opportunity, this is the program to see. One highlight will be Slash by Austin favorite Clay Lifford, about a thirteen year old boy exploring his own sexuality by writing Harry Potter fanfic. Also in this program is the brilliant This Is It by Alexander Engel, which manages to squeeze the entire plot of a twenty-something coming-of-age-in-his-first-apartment feature into 3 minutes! Seriously, this is one of the greatest shorts I’ve ever seen.

A Fragile Trust – Remember Jayson Blair, who unleashed a massive scandal in 2003 when it turned out a majority of his articles for the New York Times were plagiarized? Ten years later Samantha Grant’s film looks back at the dirty details of the dishonor, as well as exploring the deeper themes of power, ethics, representation, race and accountability in the mainstream media. It is hard to stay unbiased about a subject like this, especially when the most screen time is given over to the man himself, but the film does a fantastic job at looking at this singular event from every angle and opening up the blame to as many people as came into contact with the issue.

Limo Ride – World Premiering at ATLFF, Limo Ride sounds like an amazing mix of truth and fish-tale. A group of friends hire a limousine to take them to the beach for New Year’s. 24 hours later, they’ve been kidnapped, stripped, stranded and left for dead on a dirt road. With narration by the actual participants combined with a feature-length reenactment, this bar story becomes an experimental docu-comedy, one of the fresher choices in the festival line-up.

Metalhead – An Icelandic film about girl who finds comfort in the music of Black Sabbath as she deals with her brother’s tragic death. Rebellious and dreaming of a rock-star future, she is forced to grow up and make some tough choices when her childhood friend returns intent on marrying her and a young priest moves into the quiet farming community. When was the last time you saw a film in Icelandic? Also, director Ragnar Bragason is flying in for the screening. Put on that corpse-paint and represent blast-beat enthusiasts!

The Road To Livingston – After ten years, Delia Perez-Meyer still makes the four-hour drive every week to Livingston, Texas to visit her brother on death row. At first saddened and frustrated by this journey, Delia discovers others unwillingly involved in the prison system who help bring her to a place of redemption and hope. Under the shadow of death, bonds are forged and families made along the road to Livingston. This documentary is not about the case — that’s far less interesting than the lifestyle, the world a mother is thrust into by the conviction her son received. It’s a tough watch, but definitely will make you look at death row in a fresh light.

Speak Now – Winner of the Audience Award in Austin in the Write/Rec section I proposed and programmed just to highlight films like this. Shot on a ridiculous low budget and in a mere three days, Speak Now is everything that could go wrong at a wedding, built around a remarkable ensemble of actors/characters who improvise all their lines from a predetermined outline. And the crazy thing is, if I hadn’t told you that, you wouldn’t be able to tell. A true gem of independent film., it’s bitter, and heart wrenching but also full of joy and exuberance and real courage.

Touch the Puppet Head – A collection of puppet movies and live action puppet acts like no other – this is an Atlanta Film Festival exclusive, and really neat sounding. Acts will include previous National Puppet Slam featured artists Carla Rhodes and Gavin Cummins; local acts Raymond Carr, Charles Pillsbury and Charles Kelso; as well as puppeteer and playwright Zeb West and a whole host of short films, all curated and hosted by Atlanta’s very own Beau Brown, host of the hometown puppet slam, The Puckin’ Fuppet Show. You can guess this one is not for the children. Unless you are a really interesting parent.

The Unwanted – Another World Premiere, Brett Wood’s film is a contemporary take on the 1872 gothic novella Carmilla. In the film, Carmilla descends upon the rural town where her mother disappeared years earlier, only to find herself the center of the gossip of the townsfolk when she becomes romantically involved with an emotionally troubled local girl. The girl’s father may just know the dreadful truth of Carmilla’s mother’s end, but his wrath at her involvement with his daughter causes him to turn the town against her. In the original book, they think she’s a vampire. We’ll see how the new version turns out for her, though I’ve heard tell they aren’t always too keen on lesbians in the back woods.


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