BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Sidewalk Film Festival is back as they celebrate 23 years in Birmingham, as well as a homecoming to Birmingham’s Historic Theatre District.
The festival will run from Monday, Aug. 23, through Sunday, Aug. 29, and will screen over 250 films. The first event starts Monday night at 6 p.m. and will feature “Alabama Filmmaker Spotlight: Alabama Documentary Shorts,” a compilation of short documentaries created by Alabama locals. Although events will run throughout the week, the weekend will feature the bulk of the screenings.
Last year, the festival was held at the Grand River Drive-In in Leeds to provide a safer environment with the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they return to their Theatre District roots and will host events at the Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema at The Pizitz, the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, First Church Birmingham, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre, Recital Hall and Lecture Hall, as well as the Steiner Auditorium at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Festival organizers acknowledge that the pandemic is not over and will be working to ensure that filmmakers, volunteers, audience, and staff are safe.
Chloe Cook, executive director of Sidewalk, said that when they made the decision to return to the Theatre District, the number of vaccinated people was on the rise and case counts were declining. Since then, the Delta variant has pushed case counts back up, but Cook said they are not in a position to transition the event to a drive-in format. Instead, they are employing every strategy they can to ensure safety for those in attendance.
“We are limiting capacities in all venues to provide space for social distancing, we are asking all participants to wear a mask when attending any indoor element of the festival, and we’ve established several partnerships with area agencies to help attendees get tested, get vaccinated and learn more about the health crisis while in attendance,” Cook said.
In an announcement on Saturday, the Sidewalk Film Festival said that all attendees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have received a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test within 48-hours prior to entry to the event.
The Sidewalk Film Festival’s website lists the following health and safety precautions:
- All screening venues will be capped at 50% capacity
- The Alabama Theatre and the Lyric Theatre were rented for the Opening Night Film in order to provide space for social distancing
- The Opening Night After Party will be outdoors
- The Saturday Night Party will be in the Boutwell Auditorium at 25% capacity
- All staff, volunteers and patrons will be required to wear a mask indoors
- Free disposable masks will be available at all venues
- Higher quality, Sidewalk branded masks will be available for sale
- The Sidewalk Film Center and Center HVAC was upgraded to include a UV filtration system on all units, and they only use MERV-13 filters
- They are partnering with Birmingham AIDS Outreach to run a free vaccine clinic at the Sidewalk Cinema in advance of the festival and during festival weekend
- They are working in partnership with the Jefferson County Health Department on COVID-related PSAs during the festival and at the cinema
- They are working in partnership with the UAB School of Public Health and the Jefferson County Health Department on a festival panel to dispel myths about COVID-19
“We understand if some of our long-time participants are uncomfortable attending this year due to COVID, and we look forward to the time when we can welcome them back with open arms (and hugs) when the virus is under control,” Cook said.
When asked about what makes this year’s festival special, Cook said the Sidewalk Film Center Cinema would be fully operational for the first time in the festival’s 23-year history.
“The film program is unique every year and we are particularly proud of this year’s line-up, which includes over 250 films across all genres, leaning a bit heavier into documentaries this year than previous years,” she said.
The festival will include numerous events, such as screenings, panels, Q&A sessions, parties and an awards ceremony. The festival’s website recommends attendees to plan ahead and use their online schedule to decide what they want to see or participate in.
Since the festival will be spread throughout the Theatre District, foot traffic can be expected. To help attendees navigate the festival footprint, Cook said they are using ample signage for way-finding, complimentary shuttle services between the north and south ends of the footprint and a partnership with BOLT scooters/bikes/mopeds for individual on-site transportation.
The website lists the following items as things to bring to the festival:
- Everyone should bring an open mind and an adventurous spirit
- A mask or cloth that covers your nose and mouth
- Sunglasses, umbrella/raincoat and comfortable shoes are recommended
- A debit/credit card for cashless transactions
The website tells patrons to not bring bad attitudes, weapons of any kind or drugs.
Despite the challenges that came with the past year and a half, Cook said that there were positives.
“We’ve felt a great amount of support from our community during this time, with several sponsors signing on board before we could commit to what specifically this year’s festival would look like,” she said. “We had hundreds of folks become members of our new cinema when we could not even open our doors and again, we’ve seen countless members of the community step up to volunteer at our annual festival.”
When asked about the future for Sidewalk, Cook said the festival has no plans to go anywhere.
“Our home is in the Theatre District and it is our hope that we can return to the District next year and for many, many years to come,” she said.
The festival offers a variety of passes and tickets to allow attendees to optimize their experience. Tickets can be found here.
Day passes run for $35 and will allow an attendee to have access to all screenings on the selected day. The weekend pass runs for $95 and will allow access to all weekend screenings, including the opening night film and after-party. The VIP pass runs for $270 and will give a participant an all-access experience to the festival, including access to a VIP lounge with complimentary drinks and early access seating.
The festival also offers single tickets. General admission tickets run for $10 and are good for any film, but with the lowest seating priority. Festival spotlight series tickets run for $15 regular and $5 for VIP Pass holders. These tickets are for special films that highlight a spotlight category (Alabama Filmmakers, Life + Liberty, SHOUT and Black Lens). Premium Single Tickets run for $15 and will guarantee access to a particular film or shorts block.
For more information about the festival, click here.