In writer/director Craig Brewer's compelling feature, a small-time Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) rediscovers his love of music and pours his passion into autobiographical rap songs as a last-ditch means to find a better life. Filmmakers, especially those competing at festivals, can find themselves in similar positions - only without the guns and ho's.
As artists, filmmakers are all about the flow, trying to tell a compelling cinematic story that will connect with audiences. As business-people, however, filmmakers are always on the hustle, seeking money and resources to get their films made, then grabbing attention from festival programmers and exhibitors to get their films seen.
The 29th Atlanta Film Festival presents more than 100 shorts and feature-length films, and all the participating filmmakers probably faced such struggles at some point. With so many choices available between June 10-18, eager movie-goers can sort the flow from the hustle by avoiding five common myths about film festivals.
Myth No. 1: A film festival can't be crunk. Rather than ignore Music Midtown and the Vibe Music Fest, the festival's programmers built music-oriented programs into the opening weekend, hoping to attract music fans ready to sit down and cool off in a theater. Hustle & Flow features Atlanta musician Ludacris and infectious, Southern-flavored hip-hop. The festival's roster also includes Kill Your Idols (p. 64), a documentary about New York's art-punk scene; Rize (p. 64), a nonfiction account of South Central Los Angeles' innovative street dancing; and 9 Songs (p. 63), which cuts between explicit sex scenes and live performances from hip rockers like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Super Furry Animals and the Von Blondies.
Myth No. 2: Film festivals ignore local concerns. The Atlanta Film Festival's opening weekend also programs against the music festivals by scheduling films with local hooks, having faith that native Atlantans will represent. Atlanta-based fare includes the sock-puppet film The Lady from Sockholm (p. 60), the University of Georgia canine documentary Damn Good Dog (p. 60), the short food documentary Fried Chicken & Sweet Potato Pie, and Homegrown, a collection of local short films (including winners of the IMAGE film slam "Short Lived"). Screenings packed with film participants have a pumped-up energy like none other.
Myth No. 3: Feature films are more exciting than documentaries. If you're crunched for time and must choose between a feature film and a documentary, opt for the documentary. At film festivals, the documentary choices tend to have the edge over the fiction films, probably because fewer docs make it to the cineplex, so festival programmers have a bigger, better pool to choose from. This year, documentary highlights include Seoul Train's plight of North Korean refugees (p. 61), Murderball's portrait of quadriplegic rugby players (p. 64) and The Education of Shelby Knox, which depicts a teenager clashing with small-town fundamentalist attitudes on sex education (p. 61).
Myth No. 4: Eek! Film festivals are artsy and scary! Sure, film festivals often specialize in adventurous work that pushes the art form's aesthetic boundaries. This year, the Atlanta Film Festival offers the experimental documentary MANA-beyond belief, about the power of common objects, as well as three edgy, violent Asian features: the virtuoso-style revenge drama Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (p. 63), the ghost story Pulse, and the taboo-busting anthology film Three ... Extremes.
But film festivals can also have a tame, conventional side. If you've been pining for the sitcom "Mad About You," then head straight for The Thing About My Folks, starring Paul Reiser as a middle-aged yuppie working out his relationship with his huggable, eccentric father (Peter Falk). Reiser produced, wrote, and narrated the film, which is as commercial as any made-for-TV Hallmark Hall of Fame production.
Myth No. 5: You'll never hear about these films again. This year's festival selections aren't just obscure finds, but include high-profile competitors from major film festivals, due to return later this year for regular theatrical runs. Hustle & Flow and Murderball both won Audience Awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival. One of the closing-night films, Me and You and Everyone We Know, won the Camera D'Or for Best First Feature at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
These hot flicks risk sucking all the oxygen from the Atlanta Film Festival's own discoveries. Programmer Nick Werner talks up lesser-known movies such as the multigenerational road flick Puffy Chair, the musical French farce Côte d'Azur and the amnesiac documentary Unknown White Male.
But sometimes, the best way to take advantage of a film festival is to ignore everybody else's recommendations. Don't be afraid to discover a film on your own. Movie lovers don't have to buy into anybody's hustle.
TICKET PRICES $8 per film ($6 for IMAGE members, students and seniors). $200 for All Access Festival Pass, $125 for IMAGE members, students and seniors.
TICKET LOCATIONS Tickets can be purchased at the venue, or by calling 877-725-8849, or by ordering online at www.ticketalternative.com.
Atlanta-Fulton Central Library 1 Margaret Mitchell Square. 404-730-1700. www.afplweb.com/central.
The Carter Center 453 Freedom Parkway. 404-420-5100. www.cartercenter.org.
Landmark Midtown Art Cinema 931 Monroe Drive. 678-495-1424. www.landmarktheatres.com.
Rialto Center For The Performing Arts 80 Forsyth St. 404-651-4727. www.rialtocenter.org.