The Atlanta Film Festival runs today through March 24 at various venues. Single tickets and fest passes are available at www.atlantafilmfestival.com or 404.352.4225.
People get weepy at the movies all the time. Getting teary in front of moviemakers is one of Chris Escobar’s favorite Atlanta Film Festival memories.
During 2009’s fest, Escobar saw the Southern drama That Evening Sun, which featured a post-show Q&A with director Scott Teems and actor-producers Ray McKinnon and Walton Goggins. “I was so moved by Hal Holbrook’s performance in the film that when I got up to ask a question, I started crying like a baby,” Escobar recalls. “But I didn’t care, because that film was so fantastic and so moving.”
Since then Escobar, 26, has channeled his passion for film more directly. He joined the AFF board in 2010 and last July became the festival’s executive director. Recent weeks of round-the-clock hours culminate today through March 24 with the 37th annual Atlanta Film Festival, which will screen more than 200 documentary, narrative and experimental shorts and feature films.
A Georgia State University master of arts candidate in moving image studies, Escobar particularly values film festivals as an experience that’s more interactive than going to the multiplex.
“Despite the popularity of the moving image, in whatever form we consume the most, we’re more disconnected from those artists than with any other art form,” he says. “A film festival is the equivalent of a gallery opening. It’s one of the first public viewings of this work. So attending a festival isn’t just seeing a film, it’s talking to the people who made it. Don’t just go to the screenings — go to the Q&As, the seminars, the parties and really soak in the festival.”
Escobar values the way the AFF can support new talent and points again to McKinnon, who’s darkly comedic short The Accountant won two awards in 2001. AFF’s winning shorts qualify for Academy Award nominations, and The Accountant went on to win the 2002 Oscar for best live-action short. McKinnon returned in 2009 with That Evening Sun and is back this year with two films: opening night’s Mud, in which he acts, and Rectify (Saturday), the TV show that shoots and is set in Georgia.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see the success of filmmakers whose talents we recognize,” Escobar.
He finds that the AFF, and the local independent film community in general, enjoy a ripple effect from Georgia’s tax incentives, which have increased the amount of film production in the state.
“We’ve had more films from Georgia in the festival in the past three years, and it’s not because we’ve been lowering our standards,” he says. “There’s a greater likelihood that a film was shot here in Georgia, and a greater chance that someone from Georgia returned to shoot one. Through organizations like Turner Studios, filmmakers can make a living on industry projects and make their own creative projects on the side, as opposed to busing tables for a living.”
The AFF this year received submissions of about 2,800 films from more than 100 countries (it got 1,800 films in 2009). Themes have emerged in this year’s program – some by chance, some by design. “There’s definitely a strong selection of sports films, and there’s always a good helping of films about civil liberties,” Escobar says. “We have seven films related to music, as well as a growing presence of films about food, through the documentaries The Great Chicken Wing Hunt and Pride and Joy.” Both screen Sunday.
“For us,” he says, “film is the starting point and centerpiece of the event, but the festival consists of the other elements that keep the energy and experience going.”
You might say that attending the festival without taking part in a passionate post-film chat feels like an incomplete experience, kind of like seeing a movie without popcorn.
Atlanta-based film and theater writer Curt Holman has won awards for his critical writing from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2005, he was a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in theater and musical theater.