Pageant Material (2019), dir. Jonothon MitchellRead More
At the intersection of Atlanta’s booming film industry and the diverse, grassroots creative efforts of its citizens is the Atlanta Film Festival. In its fourth decade, the festival (which is one of only two dozen Academy Awards-qualifying festivals) was stacked this year with nearly 200 films and a cumulative 25,000-member audience throughout the ten day affair.
Aside from some big-name films headlining the festival like Jason Reitman’s Tully and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (my personal favorite from the festival), AFF17 placed a particular spotlight on its inclusive line up, where 70% of the films in the festival were directed by a woman, person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or all three. In other words, the minorities were the vast majority in the Atlanta Film Festival, and that feels really good.
To highlight their LGBTQ+ stories and characters, they featured them in the #PinkPeach category. Each of these moving, queer films featured accompanying short films, which were also very queer themselves.
Directed by and starring Arshad Khan, Abu is a story as old as time, but told in a quasi-documentary fashion. As the Atlanta Film Festival describes it, “Using home videos and classic Bollywood films, Khan crafts an intimate portrait of his Pakistani-Muslim family grappling with the realities of having a gay son in a modern world. Torn between sexuality and religion, tradition and migration, a gay son and his father test the boundaries of love, home, and the meaning of family.” It also screened with the fifteen minute short film Ablution, another touching story about a disabled Muslim father reconciling the coming out of his son.
How can I see it?
Abu is currently slowing being released in theaters nationwide, but currently only in very select cities.
“Having recently embraced her own identity, Sid, a transgender woman, finds herself tangled in a complex web of expectations and aspirations when she discovers she has a 14-year-old son. With new relationships adding to the struggle of culture, religion, and romance in Sid’s journey to acceptance, everyone’s in for a wild ride. Venus also screened with the short film Umbrella, directed by Rhys Ernst. Against the backdrop of rising anti-trans legislation, Umbrella chronicles the stories of four transgender individuals across America united in their passion to create change.”
How can I see it?
Venus is making the rounds at festivals internationally, but no word yet on public distribution.
“All throughout the United States, there exists a vibrant and mythical subculture dedicated to the existence of real life mermaids. In the exploration of the history and present of this peculiar passion, Mermaids takes us on a journey into the lives of five incredible women who spend their free time, and sometime work hours, donning full-size tails at pools, beaches, and bars. In watching them transform into the sea-creatures of their dreams, we gain beautiful insight into the complicated lives of women who differ in every way but are drawn to the same ideal of unearthly beauty and freedom.The film also screened with the short Pink Dolphin, a story about the one and only Pink Dolphin living in the ocean looking for his companions and trying to survive from the assaults and taunts of other sea creatures.”
How can I see it?
Mermaids is now streaming everywhere movies are sold, and is available on blu-ray and DVD.
Lean on Pete
Although Lean on Pete isn’t particularly queer, you’re likely familiar with director Andrew Haigh’s previous, very gay work such as the classic romance film Weekend and the HBO show Looking, which ran for two seasons and a feature-length finale. Pete is a road trip movie, but with a horse. It tells the story of a young man and an aging racehorse named Lean On Pete in search for a new home. Starring Charlie Plummer and Steve Buscemi, this
How can I see it?
Luckily, Lean on Pete is distributed by A24, and is now playing at Tara 4 Cinemas in Buckhead.
Lastly, it was the Trans* community that stole the whole festival. In fact, Man Made made its premiere at AFF 2018. It made such a big splash, it was awarded Best Documentary. Locally made in Georgia and directed by T Cooper, Man Made is about the world’s only all-transgender bodybuilding competition. What precedes this triumphant moment for four trans male bodybuilders are a set of personal and diverse journeys taken on the path to self-identity and empowerment. Told through the intimate and honest lens of a trans filmmaker, this documentary intertwines the nuances of manhood, the drive for social justice, and the competitive desire to forge our own paths and be our personal best.
How can I see it?
Man Made is making its festival rounds for the next several months, but keep an eye out for a more wide release later this year!
The Atlanta Film Festival is a wonderful experience where your involvement whether as a viewer, volunteer, or filmmaker could make an impact on a person’s life and artistic perspective in some way. If you missed it this year, or didn’t see enough (like me), make it a priority. Celebrating culture, art, and diversity though our strongest storytelling medium will never not be important. You never know, you may get inspired to go out and make something for yourself.
Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta with his partner Mark. When he’s not churning out internet content for TylerScruggs.com and other publications, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets week in advance. Feel free to validate him on Instagram (@Scruggernaut), Twitter (@TylerScruggs), or on Scruff (you’ll know it when you see it).
American Animals director Bart Layton is a documentarian. A peep over at his IMDb page reveals that, despite a pretty extensive filmography, this is his first narrative feature. However, he brings his documentary skills to the table in an impressive way. And while it's something I haven't quite seen before, it's not quite enough.
The premise of American Animals is simple; best friends Spencer (played by the increasingly wonderful Barry Keoghan) and Warren (American Horror Story golden child Evan Peters), bored with their lily-white suburban lives at Transylvania University in Kentucky, set out to pull of an audacious art heist at their own school. It's equal parts The Social Network and Fight Club, but without the laser-sharp focus of either.
In an otherwise straightforward heist film, Layton through his documentarian eye, begins to warp the film by intercutting the narrative with interviews of the real-life felons. Not only that, the counterparts occasionally replace the actors with themselves. Through this, you're able to better understand character motivations, but the structure of the film never provides sufficient suspense, because it's predated on the spoiler that they're going to fail. Because while they're executing their clearly flawed heist, the real-life counterparts are talking directly to you about how stupid they really were.
Ultimately, American Animals doesn’t quite justify its runtime. The contributions of the real life counterparts, while technically impressive and quite entertaining, undercuts any momentum the film might have in telling its story. American Animals doesn't really have anything to say other than "Look at this, this happened. Don't do this."
Curiously, this is the first film released under the MoviePass Ventures label. Its parent company, MoviePass (the movie theater buffet service that can comfortably be described as ‘sketchy, but worth it’), purchased the film at Sundance earlier this year. Much like the heist that goes awry in American Animals, MoviePass is gaining traction as a stunt pulled on the whole industry. Personally, I’m very curious to see what effect its association with MoviePass has on the Box Office. Especially considering it’s not by any means a tentpole film that people would necessarily flock to the theaters to see opening weekend.
Simply put, American Animals is a movie to see with your MoviePass, but not much else.
American Animals - 3/5
American Animals is in theaters June 1st.