The Shoals own Donnie Fritts is the subject of one of this year’s Professional Documentary finalists, “Undeniably Donnie.” While the film premiered at Billy Reid’s October Shindig, we are pleased to be able to screen it for those who missed Mark Slagle’s touching tribute to Alabama’s Leaning Man. Such an important film deserves a special venue, so the documentary will screen at the festival’s Kick-Off Party, Thursday, March 3, 6pm, 116 Mobile St. John Paul White will be on hand to introduce the film, which is narrated by Kris Kristofferson. Catered by Odette, the party is free and open to the public. Come join us for the fun!
We get a lot of questions about celebrity guests for the film festival…A LOT! And don’t get us wrong, we love bringing big names from film to the festival, and they always provide lots of fun for our audiences. But some years – like this year – we are presented with so many hours of amazing films from independent filmmakers that we are face with the hard choice of cutting the screening times to make space for a celebrity guest, or cutting the celebrity time to make space to exhibit great films for our community. These kind of predicaments often lead to a “what would George want” decision for us. Since the festival founders started this event 19 years also to provide an opportunity in our area to support independent filmmaking, we think George and the other founders would be on board with our decision this year to devote our time and resources to those filmmakers and screenwriters from across the globe who submitted their work to the Lindsey Fest because they’ve heard of our tradition of good Southern Hospitality. We hope all our supporters will be on board, too, and come out to see great films and meet the artists who create them. We’re pretty sure there are future celebrities in this group!
We are a little less than two weeks from the kick off of the 2015 George Lindsey UNA Film Festival, and boy has it been an adventure getting here. We moved to a new film submission platform this year, and we ended up with nearly 3000 submission, ten times our average number. We pulled in judges from all over North America to handle the submissions, and they did an excellent job in providing us an amazing group of finalists. We are excited to share these films with our audiences; you can see the screening schedule over on our schedule page. Many of the filmmakers will be in attendance; some coming from as far as Spain and Germany, and we hope you are on hand to meet them.
Joining this year’s film lineup are a few special events you won’t want to miss. 15 year old neuroscientist Michelle Marquez will be presenting her research at 3pm on Friday, March 6. This might not sound like your typical film festival fare, but Michelle’s research is in the connection between art and the brain, specifically, what is the scientific explanation for the brain’s emotional response to artistic stimuli like music and film. Michelle has spoken about her work throughout the world and has done a TEDx talk, which includes a short film she produced to illustrate her research. We’re excited to welcome Michelle to the Lindsey Fest.
Speaking of the connection between art and the emotion, our special panel this year is comprised of music supervisors who must consider just that in their work. Grammy Award winning songwriter and performer John Paul White will moderate a panel discussion from music supervisors Dave Jordan (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, Agent Carter, Empire), Juliette Jordan (Alvin and the Chipmunks, Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2), Thomas Golubić (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Six Feet Under), and Andrea von Foerster (Fantastic 4, Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, Grey’s Anatomy). The panel is at 7pm on Friday, March 6. Shoals area musicians should take note; these supervisors are always scouting for new music!
Filmmaker Aaron Wolf brought us a comedy last year for a special screening, and this year he will screen his new short film, The Walk, a story of “a young Jewish boy growing up in late 1980s Brooklyn, who meets an older Jewish man, Alfred, outside the local synagogue soon after the death of his father. The two quickly strike up a friendship as Alfred imparts life lessons during their walks through the neighborhood, to and from Temple. Over twenty years later, Danny will learn a whole new lesson he never saw coming.” The Walk is sponsored by the Shoals Interfaith Council and screens at 4:30 on Friday, March 6. Aaron will take the stage again this year as one of the MCs, along with Natalie Canerday, of the Annual Awards Show, 7pm, Saturday, March 7.
These are the scheduled events of this year’s festival, but if you’ve joined us in the past, you know there will be many spontaneous special moments we can’t predict. And you have to be there to experience them. We look forward to seeing you and sharing those special moments with you at this year’s George Lindsey UNA Film Festival.
Whoa! Our web site has suffering from some malady, and has been up and down for the last few days, but there is SO much to catch up on! We'll give this a try and see if it makes it to all you out there on the nets. Before sharing some of what we've been doing, a big reminder that our Annual Awards show is tonight at 7pm (the Mane Room, Pine Street, Florence, Alabama), and there are still tickets available. You really have to make this one; I can’t think of a better way to spend the evening than with this incredible, and I am not exaggerating, group of filmmakers that have assembled for this year’s Lindsey Film Fest. You are missing out on a rich opportunity if you don’t join us to honor them.
So, what have we been doing for two days. The films! They are excellent, each and every one. Beautiful narrative films. An amazing animation about autism awareness made by one of the most incredible young men I’ve ever met. Documentaries about things we rarely know about unless a filmmaker shows us: the tragic yet inspiring Vietnam story, the uplifting story of overcoming multiple amputations to become a world class cycler. And on, and on. We have had great audiences! We all laughed together watching the out-of-competition screening of “Guest House,” then celebrated the director Aaron Wolf’s birthday together with cake. There was even a private midnight viewing of “Muscle Shoals.” Today, folks gathered to hear our “activist filmmaking” panel talk about films made to inspire change, and I think we were all inspired to hear them!
We are grateful and honored for the love we are getting from our guests. We already believe we are one of the best kept film fest secrets around, but it sure helps to have our new friends reinforce that. I know we will be sorry to say goodbye to them tomorrow!
Today is film festival eve. For the organizers, it’s a day filled with “did you take care of”s and “can you take of”s. It’s also a day when our filmmakers and other guests begin finding their way tour little corner of Alabama where for the next three days, they will own the spotlight.
Today is also the day we hope our other special guests, our audiences, are making their final plans for the Lindsey Film Festival. If you can only see five films this year, you are probably busy going through the synopsis on our web site to make sure you get the most bang for your time. Don’t fret over that too much because we’ve made sure that whatever you pick, it will be brilliant. But if the choice becomes too stressful, just let it go and come watch all the films. You won’t be sorry!
This year’s panel at the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival is about “activist filmmaking.” Our panelists will be talking about that category of documentary films made to inspire some kind of active change. Each panelist has engaged in this type of filmmaking. Ethan Marten has just completed “White Buffalo: An American Prophecy” which seeks to locate the source of peace and harmony found in Native American Spirituality for the benefit of all humankind. Local filmmaker Wes Wages is currently working on two feature length documentaries, one involving Youth in Liberia and the other focusing on the value of higher education. And Robert Gray first film, "Mobile in Black and White," which was selected for screening at this year’s Lindsey Fest, “takes a hard look at the ways racism continues to pervade the structures and institutions of a supposedly post-racial world.”
The Lindsey Film Festival is driven by the belief that all filmmaking is important and it is our job to support those working independently of the Hollywood machine. This was George Lindsey’s mission in creating the festival 17 years ago. But films are important for different reasons. Narrative films allow us to think about the human condition through the fictions they create. Documentary films allow us to see the human condition through the reality they capture. And activist films ask us to do something about the human condition they are documenting. These films often spark loud debate; “An Inconvenient Truth” comes to mind. And these films sometimes bring us to the understanding that we each are capable of actively engaging in the improvement of humanity. That’s something George would have liked. We hope you will join us on Saturday, March 8, at 10am in the Guillot University Center Loft for “Activist Filmmaking,” moderated by Dr. Greg Pitts.
We are constantly amazed by the creativity and talent in our little corner of Alabama. The Shoals musical history is well documented, and it continues to thrive. Just last night the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Induction honored the careers of six world-class musical talents, most of whom either come from northwest Alabama or spent a great part of their careers in the Shoals area, and multiple Grammy winning singer and Florence resident John Paul White emceed the event. But the Shoals is not just known for its music; filmmaking has made its mark on our area as well. From the work of local producers such as Tonya Holly, to the national recognition the Film and Digital Media program at the University of North Alabama continues to receive, there seems to be no limit to the area’s filmmaking potential.
We are always excited when a local film makes it through the jury process and is selected for screening at the Lindsey Film Fest, and this year we again have reason for celebration. UNA Alum and professional filmmaker Clay Thomas’s short vanguard film, “Mt. Pleasant,” is an official selection of the 2014 festival, and we could not be more pleased. Clay’s work has earned its way onto the Lindsey Fest spotlight before; his film "Little Boy Lost" won the Shoals Spotlight award at our 2012 event. If you already plan on being at the festival next week, make sure you make it to the Thursday, March 6 screening of “Mt. Pleasant” (in the 7pm screening block). If you are in the area and still undecided about your Thursday plans, come support local filmmaking and watch a great film by a very talented director. “See you at the movies!”
Like any film festival, we love to see our screeners find success. All the films we exhibit are special, but occasionally there is one that hits close to home, making our investment in its success even greater. In April 2011, much of the area south and east of the Shoals was devastated by an E5 tornado, including the small town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. 27 people from Phil Campbell died that day, and many of our friends and colleagues suffered there. It just so happens there is an international group of folks named Phil Campbell, who had convened previously in the town, and Brooklyn Phil Campbell decided to have another convention there as a relief effort. UNA alum and filmmaker Andrew Reed documented the story, and in 2012 one the “Sweet Home Alabama” Award at the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival. “I’m with Phil” has gone on to other festivals to win other awards, and now there is a Kickstarter campaign to get the film distribution. The Lindsey Festival is with Andrew and “I’m with Phil.” We hope our followers will be too.
Every year at the Lindsey Film Festival is devoted to filmmakers, but this year we have decided to make that our mantra, so we are calling it “The Year of the Filmmaker.” If you are a regular at our event, you might notice that we haven’t made a major announcement about a celebrity event. But if you hop over to our screening schedule, you’ll see we have 18 films selected from many, many more submitted for the festival, and having been judged the best among their categories, each is a celebrity event. Most of those screenings will have the filmmaker in attendance – we will have a record number of filmmakers on hand this year – and those filmmakers will participate in Q&A’s after their films screen, and each Q&A is a celebrity event. On Friday evening, we will do something new at the festival; we have brought in a film to screen out of competition purely for the entertainment of our audiences. Director Aaron Wolf and star Mark Gessner will be here with their hilarious, award winning film “Guest House,” and that is a celebrity event. Our Friday table read of the winning screenplays will include notable actors Danny Vinson, Natalie Canerday, and Ethan Marten in various roles, joined by UNA student actors, and that is a celebrity event. So if have been waiting for the “big announcement” about what star the festival is bringing to this year’s event, here it is. You’re going to so overwhelmed by the number of celebrity events this year, you won’t know how to choose; we suggest you avoid the stress and just come to them all!
One of the morning news programs this week featured an interview with actor Bill Murray, and he talked about ditching his managers and publicists and taking control of his own schedule. Part of his scheduling now includes surprise “pop ins” at parties, events, etc. This got me to thinking about one of the things missing most from the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival since George’s passing almost three years ago – Humor. Sure, we find many occasions for laughter at the festival, but there hasn’t been a good Knock-Knock joke since our last festival with George. And I can’t think of a better comic actor to give us the funny back than Mr. Murray himself. So, the rest of this blog entry is addressed to Mr. Bill Murray, and the Lindsey Fest invites everyone who reads it to share on Facebook, Twitter, by old fashioned telephone if you have a direct line to Bill Murray, or any other creative force you can muster to pass our message along:
Dear Mr. Murray,
17 years ago, a very funny man named George Lindsey (you will remember him best, perhaps, from his role as “Goober” in The Andy Griffith Show) founded an international film festival at his alma mater so that students at the University of North Alabama would have better access to programs that would help them with their own aspirations as filmmakers, and also so folks in North Alabama would have better access to independent film. For the first 15 years the festival was full of humor, even if our special guests were very serious people; George would make sure even the most somber folk got the benefit of a good joke. We’ve tried pretty hard to carry the funny on our own – we’re screening an indie comedy called “Guest House” at this year’s fest, and our adopted funny lady, actress Natalie Canerday will be here - but to be honest, George often accused the festival director of being born without a funny bone, so we’re at a huge disadvantage. We hear you have taken your schedule into your own hands and that you occasionally pop in to interesting events or places that might need your particular gifts, and boy could we use them! We’re easy to find – we are in the Shoals, home of the famous Muscle Shoals sound and The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals, some of the best golfing to be found in the south. We have plenty of good people, good food, and great film to offer you – we’re just craving a little comedy. You can learn more about us at www.lindseyfilmfest.com; all our contact information is there as well as a schedule of events for this year’s festival, March 6-8.
We need you Bill Murray!
Urgently and Sincerely,
The George Lindsey UNA Film Festival organizing committee