This year’s Atlanta Film Festival is focusing more on quality than quantity.
The 43rd annual event, set for April 4 through 14 at venues all over the city, had more than 8,400 submissions, a new record. But this year’s event has 31 feature-length films and 98 short films, about half the number of feature-length movies than in 2018 and about a third less short films.
“We realized that some of the films we were placing we weren’t being able to give as much attention (to last year),” said Chris Escobar, the festival’s executive director. “So we wanted to focus a little bit more attention to films, quality over quantity. Despite all those things, we’re still a relatively small organization. So we wanted to pick the films where we could do the best justice.”
Escobar also said the 8,400 submissions, up from 1,500 in 2011, put the festival among North America’s top five film festivals in that category, with the others being the Sundance (Utah), Tribeca (New York), South by Southwest (Texas) and Toronto (Canada) festivals.
This year’s Atlanta festival will also have 36 creative media presentations, including opening- and closing-night ones, plus 12 marquee screenings, seven special presentations and a number of Creative Conference events. It will also welcome the world premiere of six feature films, 23 short films and eight creative media presentations to Atlanta. The festival will take place at the Plaza, 7 Stages Black Box, Dad’s Garage, Fox and Hilan theaters; Paris on Ponce; the Highland Inn & Ballroom Lounge; Old Fourth Ward Park; and the Hotel Clermont, all in Atlanta; the Areu Bros. Studio (Tyler Perry’s former studio site) and EUE Screen Gems (the former Lakewood Antique Market), both in south Fulton County.
Writers and directors schedule to appear at the festival include writer-director Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), co-director Dan Madison Savage (“Them That Follow”), director Joe Berlinger (“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”) and director Joseph Cross (“Summer Night”).
In addition to 20 percent of films being born from Georgia productions or filmmakers, the event prides itself on continually supporting and expanding global diversity in programming, with films this year hailing from over 45 countries across the globe. The festival also announced an astounding 50 percent of the selected films are directed by a female and 40 percent are directed by a person of color.
The opening-night presentation is “The Farewell,” starring Awkwafina as a rebellious writer dealing with her family and set for April 5 at 7 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre. The closing-night presentation is “Them That Follow,” starring Walton Goggins and Alice Englert as a father and daughter in an Appalachian community of snake handlers and screened April 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre.
More than 20 percent of the movies in this year’s festival have Georgia ties, a sign of the state’s continuing TV/film industry boom. But that explosion has paid dividends in other ways, Escobar said.
“It’s growing but not in the most obvious way,” he said of the movies with Georgia connections in the festival, which includes both films shot in the state and films directed by a local filmmaker. “ We’re extremely proud of the fact that we have so many films with Georgia ties. Our organization was started for the purpose of supporting our local film-making community and also giving access to the local film-making audiences to see great things they otherwise wouldn’t see. Our organization has kind of drifted away from that for any number of reasons. As a point of reference, if you look back at 2011, the number of films connected to Georgia was mush smaller than it was then. Oh, Marvel (Studios) shot a film here so we’re going to put that in the festival.
“Aside from the continuing impact our organization has had to grown the number of films made here that the quality of films made here, when the thousands of thousands of people are working on a Marvel movie are able to make a living by staying in Georgia means their ability to grown their own art and make films here. People do’t have to move to New York and California. Now we’re able to see these folks make a living here in Georgia and then write and direct their own films as well. The other thing is the industry here, from all the sound stages to vendors grows, they have a responsibility to support the indy film-making community and are being more generous with their resources to support those up-and-coming filmmakers as well.”
Festival Programming Director Alyssa Armand said while having a diverse group of films to screen, the event wants to stay true to its roots.
“There are many film festivals in the state of Georgia. They are more Southern focused and we are not,” she said. “We’re screening films from 45 countries across the world, so part of that is bringing those stories to a local audience. But as the film industry continues to grow and thrive in Atlanta, we often realize the independent film industry here in Georgia is not recognized in the way we think it ought to be. So the biggest thing is discovering new voices and it’s really amplified when those voices come directly from our back yard.”
Escobar said while watching the festival’s films is a new and fun experience, visiting the venues where they are screened is equally thrilling since some are hidden gems just like the festival’s movies.
New this year is the return of the Image Awards gala, which is back after a 10-year hiatus and will take place April 3 at the Fox. The festival is honoring four Georgians who have contributed to the film industry: Becky Holland, director of culture and engagement at Turner; Tom Luse, an executive producer of “The Walking Dead;” Attorney General Chris Carr, for his work aiding the industry when he served as commissioner of the Georgia Department Economic Development; and actor/musician Clifford “T.I.” Harris.
Armand said the festival’s diversity in programming and films makes it appealing to all audiences.
“We just try to find something for everyone,” she said. “We try to make independent film as accessible as possible.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantafilmfestival.com.