Although Shane Ogle has loved movies since he was a kid, he didn’t come to fully appreciate independent films until he was in high school. “I loved going to the video store and picking out something unusual,” he said. “Something I had never heard of before.”
Shane’s affection for all things video carried over into his work as manager of the local Replays Gameware Movies & More store on Quintard Avenue.
In 2005, his interest in indie films led him to the Sidewalk Film Festival in downtown Birmingham. This annual event showcases a variety of independent movies and shorts from filmmakers all over the world.
Now in its 20th year, the festival kicks off this week with receptions and previews leading up to the weekend, when some 200 movies will be screened at 10 different venues.
The genres cover all the usual cinematic topics: documentaries, horror, sci-fi, Western, foreign and all else in between. “There’s also a special emphasis on Alabama films,” Shane said.
After attending the festival for a few years, Shane wanted to do his part to help the organizers. “The festival runs on volunteer manpower,” he said. With only three employees, volunteers are a crucial part of the operation, and Shane wanted to do his part. “It also didn’t hurt that the festival rewards volunteers with free passes,” he added.
One of the more anticipated flicks is “White Tide: The Legend of Culebra,” about a man who goes on a modern-day treasure hunt for $2 million worth of lost cocaine. The festival’s organizers describe the film as a “fast-paced, stylish, fun and poignant roller coaster ride of a documentary.” It will be shown at the historic Alabama Theatre and will officially kick off the film-binging weekend.
Shane will be on hand for that premiere, making sure that entrance lines are orderly, fetching signage, distributing pencils and scorecards for patron’s reviews and answering questions about venues and show times. “It’s a lot of running around,” he said.
This year, Shane was also invited to be part of the shorts screening committee. “I watched 158 short films to help decide which ones would be shown at the festival,” he said.
Thousands of people attend the festival, but since it is spread out over multiple venues, the crowds are manageable. If one movie has no more seats available, there are plenty of other films playing at the same time from which to choose. And the more popular films are shown more than once throughout the weekend. A free tram service runs between venues.
Some of the films screened at past Sidewalk festivals have gone on to win Academy Awards, and many others have found their way to Netflix and other streaming services.
When I asked Shane to tell me about his three favorite Sidewalk films, he agreed to do so — but warned that he could easily talk about dozens more.
“The Parking Lot Movie”: “Sounds like it should be incredibly dull, but it was really funny and entertaining. It’s a documentary about college kids working at a parking lot while they go to school. It reminded me of ‘Clerks’ with the daily hassles of dealing with customers, and the creative ways of fighting the boredom that comes with sitting in a booth all day.”
“The Wolfpack”: “A great documentary about a family of nine who spent years locked away in their Manhattan apartment. The kids learned about the world by watching movies. The film follows them as they leave the apartment for the first time in years to explore the outside world.”
“Welcome to Leith”: “A shocking documentary (can you tell I like documentaries?) about the small town of Leith, N.D. The town had a population of 16 before a group of neo-Nazis starting buying up plots of land to make it the capital of their white supremacist organization. The film follows the townspeople as they try to oust these interlopers and prevent Leith from becoming a racist safe haven.”
The Sidewalk Film Festival runs Aug. 24-26. For more information, such as pricing and scheduling, visit sidewalkfest.com.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.