Sidewalk Films: Tell Me What's Real

For two people whose first marriages imploded rather messily, hitting the fifteen year mark felt like a real milestone.  It made us happy.

We generally celebrate our anniversary at least twice -- once at the Welcome Reception of the annual MCMLA conference, whenever that happens to be, and once on the actual date.  (In the fifteen years since we got married at that reception, I don't recall that the two dates have ever exactly coincided.)  Given our typical fall travel schedule, as often as not we'll be out of town on the calendar date.  But Lynn always has our wedding champagne flutes in their travel case and we always have a fine time.

This year, the calendar angels were working in our favor.    We were in town, and the annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival was scheduled for the same weekend.  One other year we managed to get down for a day of the festival, but this was the first time we'd be able to go to the whole thing.  So I booked us into the Tutwiler Hotel and we made a celebration of it.

The venues for the films are all within easy walking distance of each other, so with a little ingenuity and careful scheduling, you can get to quite a few.  And we did.  We only saw one that we thought was pretty awful -- I won't mention it by name (bless it's heart).   We saw a couple that were stunning -- Marwencol was clearly a highpoint for me.  Lynn saw Mars without me and told me that I'd love it.  We were both touched and delighted by The Happy Poet.  There were others that were quite fine.

But for pure fun and silliness, the favorite was Americatown.  It's fast, it's funny, it's shot on location all across the country, and it's got just enough of a touch of seriousness to leaven all of that silliness.   It was joy to watch.

As someone who actually knows very little about film, one of my favorite things about the festival is that there is almost always someone associated with the film attending, and they'll do a bit of Q&A with the audience after the screening.  I learned quite a bit from those.  My very favorite Q&A moment, though, came after Americatown.   Cory Howard, who plays Roosevelt Microsoft, took a question from a very young movie fan.  The exchange went like this:


Very young kid (6?7?):  All those places that you went – was that all real or was it fake?

CH: Yeah, it was all real, man.  Yeah, we went to all of those places…

VYK:  But that… when you fell through that trap door in the sand….?

CH: (looks stricken)  Oh, man!    You’re so young….  I hate to do this…  (covers eyes briefly with forearm)  But that…  Well – look – you’re going to see a lot of movies from here on out, and I’ve got to be honest…  It’s ALL fake.  But there’s lots of real stuff out there, too!  You gotta get into that – there’s the trees & hills…  and, um, there’s Santa Claus…  and there’s, oh yeah, there’s insects, man!  Get into insects, they are so amazing!

VYK: (inaudible)

CH:  What’s that?  (puts hand to ear)

VYK:  There’s SpongeBob!

CH:  Yeah!  There’s SpongeBob!  He’s real.  He’s hard to find, down there on the bottom of the ocean, though.  But yeah….


Reality is where you find it.  We found quite a bit of it in downtown Birmingham that weekend.


How Do I Get Myself Into Things Like This?

I've been one of the faculty advisors to the UAB Lecture Series Committee for seven or eight years and I have never seen as excited a  response from the students on the committee to any suggestion for a speaker as we got when someone mentioned that Jon Heder and Aaron Ruell might be available.  I was the only one of the advisors who had actually seen the film or had any idea how much of an underground hit it had become.  I spoke in favor of it, and between that and the obvious excitement of the students, we were able to make it happen.  I presume this is why Lura (staff person for the committee)  asked me to be the MC for the event.

I picked up the DVD on Friday, and we watched it again last night.  I enjoyed it more than I did the first time, because I knew what I was getting into.   The first time, the emotional resonance brought back enough of what I so often felt in my early high school days as to make watching some of the scenes positively painful.  I assume that's why it's become so successful with people for whom those years are not far in the past -- or not in the past at all.  In my own case, there are many days and many circumstances when I feel that they're not in the past at all.   This one, for example.

We're expecting somewhere between three and five thousand people to the arena tomorrow night.  Heder & Ruell will talk for ten or fifteen minutes and the rest of it will be question & answer, and my job will be to introduce them and then to keep the flow going for the next hour or so.  I'm petrified.   Just before we start, I will be feeling exactly like Pedro did before he went out to give his speech.  The difference between Pedro and me is that I know that as soon as I start, the nerves will vanish and I'll do just fine.  There's a lot to be said for getting older.