Photo: Shane Rice
For those who appreciate “the best of the best,” the best weekend of the year is approaching: The Fairhope Film Festival, Nov. 14 – 17. This event has always been a film lover’s film festival, held each year on the second weekend in November, offering participants the opportunity to see world-class, award-winning films in a unique, picturesque location over a four-day period.
You can walk from venue to venue throughout Fairhope enjoying feature films, shorts and documentaries selected by festival organizers with a focus on national and international film festival competition finalists of the past year; the “best of the best” in cinema arts.
Festival founder and director Mary Riser describes the selection process: “To find the best films we can, we attend film festivals all over the U.S. and Canada. Some festivals take submissions, but we are only open for submissions for short films and we have some great ones this year.”
Riser taught literature at the University of South Alabama and Spring Hill College and views films as “an outgrowth of the literary tradition.” Her dedication to all forms of excellent storytelling led her to start the Fairhope Film Series 21 years ago because she “wanted our area to have the quality of films that I believe the Eastern Shore population deserves.”
This is a truly homegrown event.
“After 14 years of screening 24 films a year at South Alabama’s Fairhope campus, some friends and I decided we needed to go full blown,” she recalled. “Thus, seven years ago, The Fairhope Film Festival was born in my garage.”
Notable foreign and feature films, documentaries and shorts — many that never made it to theaters nationwide or were there only briefly — have been selected for appreciative audiences. Although the festival will pull out all the stops to host the opening and closing events and parties, the emphasis will remain on the art of filmmaking and the experience of seeing exceptional films. Directors, actors and screenwriters will participate in the screenings both in person and via livestream.
At this point in the festival’s history, the experience and expertise of the board selection process is evident in the quality of the films that they scoured the world for. The best way to truly appreciate the depth and breadth of this extraordinary lineup is to read the roster of films that will be screened, and to take note of the exceptional variety in origin and subject matter. These are stories you won’t experience elsewhere.
“Amanda” Narrative. France. David meets Lena, who has just moved to Paris, and falls in love. Soon after, his life is brutally interrupted by his sister’s sudden death. Beyond the shock and pain, David finds himself alone with his young niece. A tender story of family.
“As Needed” Narrative. Italy. Guido has Asperger syndrome and a great passion for cooking. His unlikely friendship with a famous chef will help him change his life.
“Balloon” Narrative. Germany. In Thüringen in 1979, two families have been working on an audacious plan for more than two years: to flee East Germany in a hot air balloon. A nerve-racking battle against the clock begins.
“The Best Sommelier in the World” Documentary. Argentina. Over three days, the prestigious World Sommelier Competition offers a look at a fascinating culture that gives new meaning to the myths and mysteries surrounding the world of wine.
“The Birdcatcher” Narrative. Norway/UK. A Norwegian Jewish teenager who dreams of Hollywood stardom suddenly is faced with playing the role of her life, masquerading as a boy on a Nazi-occupied farm plotting her escape to Sweden and survival.
“By the Grace of God” Narrative. France. A matter of urgent importance, this film by director François Ozon is on a mission, one of docudrama-style reportage, tracking the progress of a movement of survivors of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. Superb acting.
“The Cat Rescuers” Documentary. USA. At the heart of this doc is a question many of us have faced: What should you do if you come across a starving or injured animal? For busy, full-time professionals living in Brooklyn, the answer was clear: They must help.
“Chasing Bliss” Documentary. Finland. One man’s search for ultimate happiness. It is a documentary questioning if the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side. Paulino’s search brings him to the happiest country in the world, Finland, where he embarks on a journey to test the true happiness of the people of Finland in the most extreme conditions. After conversing with a diverse array of Finns, he finds much more than simply happiness — he finds hope and inspiration as well.
“Clare Darling” Narrative. France. In a small French village, a woman (Catherine Deneuve) decides it’s her last day and she will sell everything. Her long-lost daughter (Chiara Mastroianni) returns, just in time to help her mother.
“Crossing Mulholland: Harry Dean Stanton” Documentary. USA. Harry Dean Stanton was one of Hollywood’s more eccentric and intriguing personalities. See his path from humble beginnings through a prolific and storied film career. A striking portrait of this one-of-a-kind Kentuckian.
“Diving Deep” Documentary. USA. Extraordinary underwater photographer and environmental advocate Mike deGruy was a frequent collaborator of James Cameron. Born in Mobile, deGruy was intrigued by the aquatic life of the bayou and beyond.
“The Etruscan Smile” Narrative. USA. A rugged old Scotsman leaves his beloved home to travel to San Francisco for medical treatment in this heartwarming story. Actors Brian Cox and Rosanna Arquette star.
“Flight of the Frigate Bird” Documentary. USA. Take a look at how generations of residents have adapted to the ever-changing landscape of barrier-island life, a community faced with daunting decisions about how to best adapt to an eroding shoreline, rising seas and larger storms.
“A Faithful Man” Narrative. France. In this charming bedroom farce, a hopeless romantic reunites with an old flame who’s suddenly widowed years after she left him to marry his best friend. It’s a playful inversion of the patriarchal tropes of the French New Wave.
“The Grizzles” Narrative. Canada. This is based on the true story of a group of students in a small, struggling Arctic town who are transformed by the power of sport and hope.
“I Want My MTV” Documentary. USA. Here is a lively look back at the era predating MTV. It traces the progression of the network from 1981 to the not-so-music network it has become. A well-crafted, fun documentary.
“The Interpreter” Narrative. Slovakia/Czech Republic. Eighty-year-old Jiri seeks revenge on the former SS officer who executed his parents. When he meets the man’s son, the pair journey to meet surviving witnesses of war.
“Jirga” Narrative. Australia. Seeking forgiveness, an Australian soldier returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a civilian he accidentally killed during the war. It is Australia’s Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film 2019.
“The Keeper” Narrative. UK/Germany. The true story of Bert Trautmann, German POW and English soccer star. A heartfelt movie of romance and redemption following World War 2.
“Laces” Narrative. Israel. A special needs man and his father, who abandoned him as a child, reconnect at a critical time in both their lives. A heartwarming, uplifting story of a family dealing with difficulties.
“The Last Prosecco” Narrative. Italy. This elegant, beautifully photographed murder mystery incorporates a strong environmental message and an inside story of the competitive Prosecco business in the Veneto region.
“Leonard Soloway’s Broadway” Documentary. USA. This film is a delightful ride through Broadway’s golden age, illuminated by Soloway’s dry wit and including never-before-heard stories of Marlene Dietrich, Carol Channing, Jason Robards, Lauren Bacall, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch and many other stars of the stage and screen.
“Marceline” Documentary. France. Filmed during her last days in Paris, this is a charming chronicle of a remarkable witness to the 20th century: the legendary film director, author and actor Marceline Loridan-Ivens.
“National Anthem Girl” Documentary. USA. A desire to honor America leads to a remarkable journey that changes one woman’s life forever, as she rallies to become the first person in history to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” in all 50 states.
“New Homeland” Documentary. USA. Every summer since 1914, Canada’s Camp Pathfinder has invited a community of boys and young men to spend a few weeks in the backcountry. See what a profound effect this experience has on refugee boys in this timely story.
“Power Meri” Documentary. Australia. Proud, strong, hopeful and completely unprepared, the pioneering women of New Guinea’s first national rugby league have three months to transform into winners.
“Return of the Hero” Narrative. France. This delightful drawing-room farce, set in 1809, attempts to expose the charming hero for the con artist he is. It delivers an engaging story of humor and romantic fun.
“The River and the Wall” Documentary. USA. Follow five friends on an adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel 1,200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes and canoes. Remember “Unbranded”?
“Runner” Documentary. USA. This moving story is about a former refugee from the turmoil and civil war in Sudan. He ran as an independent under the international Olympic flag.
“Secrets of the Sun” Documentary. USA. Explores the 30-year transformational journey of artist Peter Erskine as he creates and exhibits his revolutionary, transcendent artwork to raise awareness about climate change. In the end, he realizes he too has been transformed.
“The Silent Revolution” Narrative. Germany. In the time before the Berlin Wall, idealistic German students demonstrate solidarity with victims of the Hungarian revolution by a moment of silence in the classroom. This act of defiance will entail consequences. Based on a true story.
“Sister Aimee” Narrative. USA. America’s most famous evangelist is a woman looking for a way out. Fed up with her own success and swept up in her lover’s daydreams about Mexico, she finds herself on a wild road trip to the border.
“T for Taj Mahal” Narrative. India. Bajja is a village with no school. Bansi wants to change that, so he starts a roadside eatery, asking customers to teach the village kids instead of paying money for food.
“Take It or Leave It” Narrative. Estonia. What would you do if one day a newborn baby was put into your arms and you were told, “take it or leave it”?
“Tel Aviv on Fire” Narrative. Luxembourg/Israel. Anyone who tries to make a comedy about the absurdities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to walk such a fine line it’s nearly impossible. With every attempt at humor, the director risks offending everyone.
“This Changes Everything” Documentary. USA. Some of Hollywood’s leading voices uncover what is beneath one of the most confounding dilemmas in the entertainment industry: the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women.
“The Tobacconist” Narrative. Germany/Austria. A 17-year-old journeys to Vienna to apprentice in a tobacco shop. He meets Sigmund Freud and over time the two very different men develop a singular friendship.
“A War Within” Narrative. Denmark. A Danish soldier is forced to fake his own death to escape World War I trenches and return to his wife and son. When he arrives home, he’s forced into another kind of warfare. Can he survive on both fronts?
“When Lambs Become Lions” Documentary. Kenya. Here, in the Kenyan bush, is a rare and visually arresting insight into the perspectives and motives of the people at the epicenter of the conservation divide.
The short films will be shown in three groups: comedy, portraits and relationships. The comedies, shown in the Fairhope Public Library on Friday, Nov. 15, from 4–5:30 p.m., include: “All Inclusive” from Switzerland, in which viewers come aboard a cruise ship, a microcosm of society in a confined space; wealth and poverty, nature and artificiality, culture and commerce. It is shot without commentary, often with a sense of the absurd.
From England, “Bad Assistant” concerns a devoted Hollywood assistant who is pushed to the limits of what she’ll do for her manipulative boss, when he seeks her help in moving a dead body. “Boo,” however, hails from right here in Fairhope, created by some Bayside Academy film students and directed by Jack Roussos, in which high school friends gather around for a ghost story they won’t soon forget.
Also from Alabama, “Cherry,” directed by Birmingham resident Stacey Davis, concerns a woman named Helen who, facing her father’s impending demise from cancer, has high hopes for the family’s last Easter together. Another family faces turbulence in the English short “40 Minutes Over Maui.” In the middle of a peaceful Hawaiian vacation, a couple has to grapple with a crisis. It may not only affect their vacation, but also all of humanity forever.
In “Helen,” an eccentric member of a New York lake community mysteriously vanishes without a trace. A cautionary tale of what happens when good intentions collide with a rigid and unaccepting world. Your comedic tour through the world of short films also includes a trip to Nashville, where the nefarious Dr. Black threatens the future of the town and only “The Adventures of Wonderboy” can save the day.
The short films categorized as “portraits” include a father-son relationship, a storm chaser, a very special Beatles fan, a reluctant caregiver to a terminally ill parent, a muse to an artist in 1920s Paris and a photographer who captures the disappearing Louisiana coastline from the perspective of a low-flying contraption that he built himself. And, from Fairhope local Steven Save, the story of Ringling Bros. Circus’s last human cannonball, the aptly named “Cannonball.” The portraits series will screen Saturday, Nov. 16, at USA’s Baldwin County campus, from 2:30–4 p.m., and will be followed by a Q&A.
All manner of “relationships” with be explored in the screening of shorts on Saturday, Nov. 16, from noon until 1:30 p.m., at the library. From elephants in “Being With Elephants” (Kenya) to an AI nanny in “CC” (Canada) to “Jack and Anna,” an MFA thesis film based on true events that happened in the early 1900s in Colorado, these relationships cover a lot of literal and emotional territory.
“For Lori,” from Fairhope director Kelly Barnes, explores the details of the puzzling disappearance of Lori Ann Slesinski. A much lighter note is struck from another pair of Fairhope directors, Tamika Moore and Lauren Musgrove, who introduce us to an elementary teacher and his unusual pal in “My Friend the Goose.”
“Water 2” is an ode to the sea, and “The Silence to Come” is an ode to the trees. “Pie in the Puss” explores everything you never knew you wanted to know about the history of people being pied in film, while “Sonder” is about the relationship between two strangers. “Starvation” comes to us all the way from Iran, and it concerns a hungry wolf that gets stuck in stereotypes about being the big bad wolf of the story.
Board members attended festivals all over the world to personally select these films, and the filmmakers themselves will be in attendance for many screenings, including “The Birdcatcher” and “Diving Deep.”
The festival kicks off with the opening night film “I Want My MTV,” on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at the amphitheater on the campus of Coastal Alabama Community College. The festival hits its zenith on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 7–10 p.m., with the casino-themed red carpet street block party, which includes delicious food provided by R Bistro, drinks, live music from the Gulf Coast band Journey 2 Mars and the awards ceremony at 8 p.m. This event is 21 and up only, and requires separate tickets for $50 per person. Apropos to the casino theme, Wind Creek Hospitality is providing their gaming trailer and fun activities.
Visit fairhopefilmfestival.org for more information, to purchase tickets and to watch trailers, or contact the main office at 251-990-7957.
Single admission film tickets are $15 and can only be purchased in person at the screening venues. Individual tickets are not available online. Passes can be purchased online and you must pick up your tickets or passes in person at the festival box office during opening hours. During the festival, the box office is located inside the Fairhope Welcome Center at 20 North Section St.
$75 (includes 9 percent sales tax) — good only for movies, including opening night movie. Can be shared for multiple admissions (up to six total movies).
$140 (includes 9 percent sales tax) — grants entry to unlimited film screenings during the festival, including opening night movie (one person only). Includes admission to the red carpet street block party (one person only). Cannot be shared.
All festival screenings take place at the following venues in Fairhope:
THE BOOK CELLAR: PAGE & PALETTE
32 S. Section St.
COASTAL ALABAMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE: CENTENNIAL HALL
50 Fairhope Ave. (corner of Fairhope Avenue and School Street)
FAIRHOPE FILM FESTIVAL OFFICE
122 Fairhope Ave., Suite 1
Coastal Alabama Community College campus in Fairhope, southeast corner
Entrance on School Street near corner of Morphy Avenue
FAIRHOPE PUBLIC LIBRARY: GIDDENS CENTER
501 Fairhope Ave. (corner of Fairhope Avenue and Bancroft Street)
FAIRHOPE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Christian Life Center
452 Morphy Ave.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH ALABAMA BALDWIN COUNTY
111 St. James Ave. (corner of St. James Avenue and Summit Street)
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