45th Annual Atlanta Film Festival Recap

The 45th annual Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) took place this year from April 22nd to May 2nd. This year’s festival was a mix of in-person, drive-in, and virtual screenings — I hope this hybrid mix continues even after the pandemic, not just for ATLFF but for a lot of the festivals. (I swear, one of these days I’m going to have my first drive-in theater experience — I’ve been wanting to since I was a kid, just never got around to it…but I digress).

This was my first ATLFF experience (and hopefully, not my last — I would love to attend in person next year) and I was impressed with the selection of films chosen this year. It was a great mix of short and feature films with a good number of international works (my favorite). Atlanta also gave me a chance to catch some films that I had missed at prior festivals, so I really appreciated that — unfortunately, there were also a couple of films that I missed (ie. Inheritance and The Letter). It was also cool to see some films that I had the privilege of catching at other festivals showing here (Alive, Akilla’s Escape, All Light Everywhere, Limbo, Ma Belle My Beauty, Censor, Nine Days, The Price of Cheap Rent, Raspberry, The Sleeping Negro, Strawberry Mansion, Together Together and You Wouldn’t Understand).

So lets dive in to the shorts and features that I got a chance to screen during ATLFF…

Events Transpiring Before, During and After a High School Basketball Game — This one was just a sneak-peek into adolescent life (particularly the male perspective)…there were the usual puberty convos, the more intellectual convos, and just the mundane and weird. But while the boys’ basketball team prepares for their game (that they know they have no chance of winning), the theater group is preparing a protest and Asst. Coach’s obsession with the NBA’s triangle offense — all of these things converge at the game. It has a slow open and kind of lulled the whole way through and a really ’80s/’90s feel to it. But I did appreciate the multiple stories within a story and how they all converged. Written and directed by Ted Stenson, this was his first feature, it wasn’t perfect, but you can see the potential.
At The Ready — Given the current climate, I have conflicting feelings about this film (more so, the subject matter). This documentary shines a spotlight on the criminal justice students at Horizon High School right outside of El Paso, TX. The film follows three Mexican-American high school students as they grapple with their dreams of becoming police or border patrol officers. As someone who stays abreast of the happenings at the border and all the controversy and issues with ICE and Border Patrol, I oftentimes found myself wondering how these students would want to join these professions given the way their fellow minorities have been treated by these agencies. There is also a touching story of a young girl contemplating the consequences of coming out and the effect it would have on her family life. The director, Maise Crowe, did a great job of really giving these students a voice, but doing it in an empathetic way. These teenagers are seeing both sides and having to reconcile their experience with wanting to do good and help others. This was a nuanced film that handled the subject matter well.
Carterland — As someone who studied political science in college and still tries to stay pretty involved and knowledgeable, I’ve always considered Carter an underrated president. He gets short shrift for events that happened during his presidency and those things overshadow all of the great things (ie. conservation/energy, international environmental agenda, protecting national parks, doing the right thing, not the political thing, accountability for government officials, etc.) that happened during his term. He governed with “politics of respect” — something that we’ve been missing of late. This film just further solidified the feelings I had going into it, but it gave me just a little more insight into the man and how he operated. Carterland does a great job of taking back the narrative around Carter — he wasn’t a failed president. He was/is a visionary and his moral and ethical leadership should be celebrated, especially while he is still alive. He is not just a great ex-president, but also a great president. I highly recommend this documentary.
Desert Dogs — This was a beautifully shot documentary short that shines a light on a subset and culture that many aren’t familiar with (myself included) — “the new generation of Morocco”, with an uprising skateboarding culture at its center. I liked how it has that old Cali skateboard vibe to the phone footage. I enjoyed getting this sneak peek into their lives.

The Dress — This Polish short deals with sexuality, lust, and how we all long for connection and intimacy — and how that can go wrong. This film was hard to watch at one point — but not in a bad way, but in the fact that it can be triggering. Overall, it was superbly acted and well-written. I think filmmaker TADEUSZ ŁYSIAK has an exciting career ahead of him.

The Field Trip — Man, I felt so bad for these 5th graders in this documentary short lol. They took a field trip to a simulated city where they were all given jobs in corporate society — everything from janitor to CEO. It was oddly satisfying to see these kinds struggle and not know what the hell they were doing — just like us adults LOL. As a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up and become an adult — I’ve learned that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and think some of those 5th graders did too LOL.
A Fire Within — This documentary with re-enactments tells the story of 3 Ethiopian women who came to ATL in the 1980s/90s and ran into a notorious official who terrorized and tortured them, their families, and countless others during the Red Terror in Ethiopia. This one had a real Dateline-type feel to it. But it was interesting to see this legal process play out — it dealt with political asylum issues, deportation, the women bringing a civil case (as opposed to a criminal one), and lack of jurisdiction all before the International Criminal Court came into existence. Overall, an interesting watch.
Landlocked — Seeking closure in parental relationships and stories of sons coming to terms with their now trans-gendered fathers seems to be a theme this year. This is another road trip film in which a father and son have to reconcile their past and figure out how to move forward. Overall, this one was kinda meh and the main character was frustrating.

Ludi — This might be tied for my favorite film of the festival. Written and directed by Edson Jean (who I got to interview for WLE), Ludi is his first feature film and you can tell that he really has talent. The story of a Haitian immigrant chasing the American Dream while trying to stay above water while feeling obligated to help out family members left behind in Haiti. The direction was great and the performance by lead actress Shein Mompremier was spellbinding! I can’t recommend this highly enough.

African Violet — This is the story of a middle-aged woman who takes in her ex-husband after she finds out that he has been placed in a nursing home by their children. The film deals with the consequences and effects this decision — particularly in their Persian culture –has on the three individuals involved — Shokoo, her ex-husband, and her current husband. I thoroughly enjoyed this film — I felt it was well-written, beautifully, and intimately directed, and the acting was top-notch and authentic. One of my favorites of the festival.
Wet House — This was an interesting documentary about a subsection of society that I didn’t really know existed. The film offers an unflinching look at life on the fringe for multiple residents in America’s largest harm-reduction facility for chronic alcoholics — which is very controversial. The cinematography and editing were exceptional. This documentary really gave us a glimpse of often misunderstood individuals who are more than just their mistakes.

Overall, I has highly impressed by the programming at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival and am looking forward to joining them again next year!