- Andrew Alexander For the AJC
The 41st Atlanta Film Festival starts and closes with gala red carpet events just 10 days apart, and in between, from March 24 to April 2, the popular annual event presents a busy schedule of more than 190 films, including features, documentaries, animation, shorts, upcoming major studio releases, music videos, pilots and virtual reality at multiple venues across Atlanta.
Actor Bill Watterson helps kick off the festival with a screening of his writing and directorial debut, “Dave Made a Maze,” on opening night, March 24, at the Plaza Theatre. The quirky comedy stars comedian and musician Nick Thune. Watterson utilizes a combination of live-action, puppetry and stop-motion video to tell the story of Dave (Thune), a young man who builds a fort in his living room where he becomes trapped in a surreal world filled with booby traps and fantastical pitfalls. Watterson and select cast and crew members are scheduled to attend the opening night screening and party.
The festival concludes with the closing screening of the US-Israeli film “Menashe” from A24 Films, the studio behind the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Film, “Moonlight.” Presented in partnership with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Yiddish comedic drama explores New York’s ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. The film tells the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a kind but hapless grocery store clerk who struggles to make ends meet and parent his young son (Ruben Niborski) following his wife’s death. Tradition prohibits Menashe from raising his son alone, so the boy’s strict uncle adopts him. A rabbi grants Menashe one week with his son before his wife’s memorial, a last chance to prove himself a suitable father and restore respect among his doubters. Executive Producer Danelle Eliav is scheduled to appear at the closing night screening and celebration, which takes place April 1 at the Plaza Theatre.
Several featured marquee screenings have also recently been announced. “The Boss Baby” (March 25, Plaza Theatre) is DreamWorks’ latest computer-animated comedy about a ruthless baby who wears a suit and speaks with the voice of actor Alec Baldwin when the adults aren’t around. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (March 29, Plaza Theatre) is based on American author Diane Ackerman’s bestselling 2007 non-fiction book. Directed by Niki Caro, the film is set in 1939 Poland, where Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), use their positions running the Warsaw Zoo to try to help save lives in the Warsaw Ghetto after the German invasion.
Actor Sam Elliot stars as an aging Western icon whose staid life reliving his glory days is abruptly interrupted by a cancer diagnosis (March 28, Plaza Theatre) in director Brett Haley’s new feature “The Hero.” Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam star in director James Gray’s film version of David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller “The Lost City of Z” (March 30, Plaza Theatre) about Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett. Richard Gere stars in director Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” about an opportunist who finds himself at the center of a geopolitical drama after buying a pair of shoes for a low-level Israeli politician who is unexpectedly thrust into the position of Prime Minister (April 2, Plaza Theatre).
Georgia-made world premieres include “Born River Bye” directed by Tim Hall (March 30, 7 Stages). The film focuses on two childhood friend who reunite in their sleepy hometown as they experience difficult crossroads in their lives. Director Tamlin Hall’s Georgia-filmed feature “Holden On” (March 25, Plaza Theatre) tells the story of a small-town football player who succumbs to a secret battle with mental illness.
The festival also includes a local film series presented by Atlanta arts organization Wonderroot, seven world premiere feature films, a puppet slam, the chance to experience virtual reality shorts and a creative conference, the festival’s five-day educational programming track consisting of industry panels, talks and demos.
The annual festival will be held at venues across the metro Atlanta area including the Plaza Theatre, 7 Stages in Little Five Points, downtown’s Rialto Center for the Arts, Dad’s Garage. Avondale Towne Cinema and the Chattahoochee Hills development of Serenbe. Selected from more than 6,000 submissions from 120 countries, the festival’s 191 films includes 40 films with Georgia connections, representing both the festival’s interest in featuring films connected to the state and also the region’s recent development as a filmmaking hub.
The Atlanta Film Festival. March 24-April 2. $10 per screening, $50 on opening and closing nights. Festival badge $50-750. Multiple venues. 1-877-725-8849. atlantafilmfestival.com
Opening night. “Dave Made a Maze.” 7 p.m., March 24. $50. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave.
Closing night. “Menashe.” 7:30 pm, April 1. $50. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave.