The Atlanta Film & Video Festival Wrap Up: The Militia Goes to the Movies
by John Bernstein
It seems Atlantans have finally caught the film festival fever. Over its
eight-day run, the 21st annual Atlanta Film & Video Festival included a
record number of screenings and receptions, broke all previous attendance
records, and welcomed a record number of filmmakers and actors. At Sunday
night's closing screening of "Ulee's Gold," filmmaker Victor Nuñez seemed pleased by the city's increasing support for independent film. Making his
fifth appearance in the Atlanta festival, Nuñez called the festival an
important annual event, and IMAGE (the media arts center that produces the
festival) a valuable resource to artists of the southeast. After the
well-received screening, Nuñez and star Peter Fonda fielded questions from
the sell-out crowd before heading over to the gala closing night reception,
held in the atrium of the High Museum of Art.
Earlier that evening, William Gazecki's "Waco: The Rules Of Engagement" was
named as the recipient of the 1997 Atlanta Film & Video Festival Audience
Award. The popularity of the anti-government documentary, which examined the
1993 standoff near Waco, Texas between the ATF and Branch Davidians, came as
no surprise to festival organizers. "It was really sort of a phenomenon,"
said Anne Hubbell, Executive Director of IMAGE. "People called in from all
over the country... Demand was so high for the film that we ended up having
to add two additional screenings," explained Hubbell.
The atmosphere at those screenings was atypical for the Atlanta festival.
Many audience members showed up to the Sunday "Waco" screening either in their
church clothes or wearing T-shirts with slogans such as "BAN FINGERPRINTING"
and "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU." Several people saluted a man wearing a
shirt that read "AMERICANS FOR LAWFUL GOVERNMENT." Before the film, that man
passed out copies of an anti-FBI article from Soldier Of Fortune magazine,
along with invitations to his group's bi-monthly meetings at a local barbecue
As the lights dimmed before one sold-out "Waco" screening, several people
shouted at Hubbell, wanting to know where and when they could purchase their
own videocassette copies of the film--a question festival staffers were
constantly bombarded with. After an earlier screening, an irate audience
member leapt to his feet and shouted, "Now you've seen it, what are you gonna
do about it?" Another festival-goer several rows back quietly responded,
"Take guns away from people like you."
While WACO may have been the most controversial film at this year's festival,
it was not the only film that commanded heavy turn-out by Atlanta audiences.
Other popular films included Bob Koherr's "Plump Fiction," Sharon Grimberg and
Daniel Friedman's "Miss India Georgia," Aleks Horvats "Sweethearts" (starring
Janeane Garofalo), "Eight Days A Week" by Michael Davis, a collection of
"Twisted Shorts," the "Animation Extravaganza," and John O'Hagan's "Wonderland,"
which garnered the festival's grand jury prize.
Over 600 entries were sifted through back in March, when the jury determined
which entries would be included in the festival and which ones would win
awards. This year's jury included filmmaker and music video director Lance
Bangs, Emory University film professor and writer Adrienne McLean,
documentary filmmaker Les Blank, and Film Threat magazine publisher Chris
On Saturday night, Gore returned to Atlanta to host "Film Threat Presents,"
featuring weird underground and independent shorts from his personal film
collection. At the beginning of the program, Gore encouraged the audience to
pull out the beers they sneaked in under their coats, and to yell out,
"MORE," or "STOP," at any time during the films. He then kicked off the
midnight screening with Todd Graham's hilarious short "Apocalypse Pooh," and
explained, "For all you cry-baby, whiny filmmakers who complain that you
don't have any money to make your film, well fuck you, this film cost six
A heavily attended slate of panel discussions covering topics such as
distribution and marketing, film music licensing and composition, and new
media, also added to the success of this year's Atlanta festival. Responding
to the event's increasing popularity, organizers plan to add even more
programming to next year's schedule, and give some credit for the growing
popularity of the festival to the increased local and national media
attention (including coverage by the Independent Film Channel, Bravo, and Entertainment Tonight).