In Atlanta, Indies "Dear Pillow" and "Dirty Work" Nab Top Prizes
by Eugene Hernandez
Bryan Poyser's "Dear Pillow" won the top narrative feature prize at the 2004 Atlanta Film Festival. The film, popular a festival fixture since debuting at Slamdance earlier this year, remains without distribution. Tim Nackashi & David Sampliner's "Dirty Work" was honored as best documentary feature. The festival's audience award went to Zana Briski & Ross Kauffman's "Born Into Brothels," winners of the same prize at Sundance this year.
"Dirty Work," looking at a bull semen collector, a septic-tank pumper, and an embalmer, brought together all three subjects for the first time, during a screening at the Atlanta fest. Sampliner and Nackashi, who made the film in and around nearby Athens, Ga., are negotiating a TV deal with Sundance Channel and pursuing a DVD pact for their film. Sampliner told indieWIRE that the June fest screenings in Atlanta and SilverDocs mark the end of their current fest run, but they are hoping to schedule a couple of more dates in the coming months.
"Atlanta was one of favorite screenings," Sampliner told indieWIRE, reiterating the importance of having the subjects attend the fest showing. "For us it was really important, we felt like it had come full circle, it made it a really special event."
The award for Bryan Poyser's "Dear Pillow" is just the latest fest honor for the film. "We were totally surprised about the win in Atlanta and couldn't be happier," Poyser told indieWIRE. The movie recently won the best feature prize at the Boston Underground Film Festival. Poyser said that the film is still without distribution, but will have a theatrical run at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse later this summer along with other titles from this year's SXSW festival. Poyser and producer Jake Vaughn are also lining up other fest slots, including what they teased will be their international premiere at a "prominent European festival."
Local filmmaker Jacob Gentry's "Last Goodbye" was a hit in Atlanta. The local production drew a big crowd on Saturday night. The film was awarded the first Fred Dresch Memorial Award at the festival, honoring a local filmmaker. The prize, the event's largest, awarded the winners a $1,000 cash prize. Jim Swindall's "Make Me a Match" was awarded the Southeastern Media Award for a new local project, it was written by co-producer Lynn Lamousin. The festival's best editing prize went to Jessica Yu's doc, "In the Realms of the Unreal."
The Atlanta Film Festival opened on June 11 with a screening of Jim McKay's "Everyday People," an HBO film that will air on the network this week. McKay and executive producer Nelson George made the trip to Atlanta for the opening at the downtown Rialto theater with a festive kick-off party that filled a number of nearby bars and spilled out into an adjacent downtown alley where breakdancers drew crowds who sipped free Tiger beer. Earlier in the week, festival parent IMAGE Film and Video Center hosted their forth-annual awards gala, honoring producer Dallas Austin, Linda Dubler from the High Museum, actor Diane Ladd, Lori Slack from Multi-Media Services, and filmmaker Bill Vanderkloot.
Feature jurors this year included producer Effie Brown, Moira Griffin of Rooftop Films and Pipeline Productions, Daniel Katz from THINKFilm, and Tom Quinn from Magnolia Pictures.
In the short film categories, Kurt Kuenne's "Rent-A-Person" won the grand jury award for best narrative short. The best student short award went to Peter Vogt for "The Conductor" and the best experimental prize was awarded to Michael Reich and Jeremiah Zagar's "Baby Eat Baby." Short film jurors included Ellen Bernard of Tomorrow Productions, filmmaker Tracy Seretean, and assistant director J.D. Taylor.
Founded in 1977, Atlanta's IMAGE is about to undergo a change in leadership. Executive Director Brian Newman attended his final festival as head of the event's parent organization. Newman, who headed the group for nearly five years, is moving to New York next month. IMAGE development director Mark Wynns will serve as interim executive director as the IMAGE board continues to search for a replacement to start this fall. The Atlanta Film Festival is headed by fest director Paul Marchant. Asked about this year's event, Newman noted that it was a good year, with room for improvements.
"I think its great for us but we still have room to grow," Newman told indieWIRE. Organizers saw a slight jump in attendance, selling some 26,000 tickets. Next year, Newman noted, the fest's new downtown location will be served by a new venue that will open its doors near the Rialto. While the large Rialto welcomed large crowds to many showings, some screenings at a nearby library over the first weekend clearly suffered from small attendance that may have been hurt by rainy weather in the first few days of the fest. Panel discussions at the CNN Center over the first weekend seemed to face a similar challenge.
On a positive note, organizers singled out sell-out screenings of "The Story of the Weeping Camel," "DIG!," "Reconstruction," "Baadasssss!," "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," "Control Room," and "Born Into Brothels." Newman said that the festival saw solid crowds for international programs and he said Marchant and the festival organizers will likely explore how to increase the number of Indian and African films in the event.
"It's a been a slowly evolving process of getting the Atlanta Film Fest up to a truly great regional fest, and we are almost there," Newman said, "It will all work I think."