Hollywood films so many productions in Georgia these days, from Water for Elephants to Fast Five, that any visit to the movies can feel like an Atlanta film festival. For its 35th anniversary, the actual Atlanta Film Festival presents a handful of interesting local productions via the Georgia on Our Mind Film Series.
With the low-budget period piece The Little Death (3 out of 5 stars, screening with "The Strange Ones," Sat., April 30, 11 p.m.; and Tues., May 3, 6 p.m.), director Bret Wood presents a thematic sequel to his earlier film Psychopathia Sexualis, a loose adaptation of a psychological text from 1886. (Full disclosure: Wood is the husband of CL contributor Felicia Feaster.) Similarly focused on sexual instincts at odds with a puritanical society, The Little Death depicts one night at a brothel, based on the play Death and the Devil by Spring Awakening's Frank Wedekind and the story "A Nervous Breakdown" by Anton Chekhov.
In the parlor, a reluctant young client (Clifton Guterman) tries to converse with the ladies of the evening and forms an unexpected connection with one of them (Christie Vozniak). Meanwhile, in an upstairs office, Courtney Patterson's crusader against white slavery argues with a pimp (Daniel May). The conversations inform each other with mirrored debates over the morality of prostitution and the importance of sexual pleasure. The Little Death's long dialogue scenes, tiny sets and inclusion of some of Atlanta's best stage actors make it feel like a filmed stage play.
Speaking of local theater, Byron Horne's The Start of Dreams (2 out of 5 stars, Tues., May 3, 7:30 p.m.; and Thurs., May 5, 6:45 p.m.) profiles Kenny Leon, the Atlanta-based actor and director who made the leap from Alliance Theatre artistic director to Broadway stage director. Always an effervescent ambassador for the value of theater, Leon talks about his childhood and friendship with renowned playwright August Wilson while the film follows Atlanta's three contenders in one of Leon's National August Wilson Monologue competitions.
The Start of Dreams' most compelling scenes involve the underprivileged students preparing for the competition and being dazzled by their visit to New York for the finals. ("I've never been on a plane before!" one exclaims.) In fact, the competition feels like a better subject for Horne's documentary than Leon, who spends long chunks of time off-screen in favor of tangents about imperiled arts funding. The Start of Dreams delivers interesting personalities and ideas, but still feels like a documentary in search of a theme.
The Georgia on My Mind Film Series also includes the world premiere of John Henry Summerour's Sahkanaga, a disturbing drama set in rural Georgia; Mario Van Peebles' sports drama Things Fall Apart starring hip-hop artist 50 Cent; the documentary-style crime drama Snow on the Bluff; and the religious satire The Catechism Cataclysm.
Finally, the winners of the Creative Loafing and Atlanta Film Festival ATL Short Cuts Film Contest will be presented during the Comedy Shorts block Tues., May 3, 10 p.m. and Fri., May 6, 3 p.m. Critic's choice winner "Frowning" uses claymation for a darkly hilarious tale of an ill-tempered clown. Critic's runner-up "Gnome, or Mr. Nice Guy" follows the point of view of a cell phone that brings two young people together, while the audience award winner "Sippin' on Sunday" uses a music video to envision Atlanta as a paradise with Sunday liquor sales.