Nearly 19 years ago, Alan Hunter co-founded Sidewalk Film Fest. It’s fitting: all his life has been dedicated to entertainment, from his time as one of MTV’s original video jockeys to his work in Sidewalk to his current job at Sirius XM’s 80’s on 8 channel. We asked Alan to look back on his time coordinating the festival over the years, and to look forward to this year’s festival. Take a trip with us!
You’ve been with Sidewalk since the beginning. It’s changed a lot since its inception, but if you had to choose one way the festival has improved, what would that be and why?
Though [Sidewalk] has achieved some level of stability and the audiences have increased, amazingly it’s not because of an increase in staff, money or infrastructure. It’s still run by 2 or 3 staffers, they still work out of a small office space, (though that’s going to change soon hopefully) and the budget hasn’t ballooned over the years.
amazingly it’s not because of an increase in staff, money or infrastructure
The major change I think, is the level of acceptance and legitimacy Sidewalk has earned over the years. The festival has always been well respected around the country by the industry and filmmakers and the big local audiences that come each year, but it’s always fought for support from the local civic and corporate community.
But I think that too has finally begun to turn around. Sidewalk has existed through good times and bad and in it’s 19th incarnation has become fully enmeshed in the cultural landscape of Birmingham, Alabama and the South. I’m very proud of that.
Sidewalk is considered the “filmmaker’s festival.” How do you see that differing from other movie festivals? What does that bring?
Sidewalk has always been a filmmaker / audience focused festival. And that’s inherent in being a smaller regional festival.
We couldn’t have been, even if we wanted to be, an industry focused festival like Sundance or Toronto or South by Southwest because we’re not a major city. We aren’t a marketing vehicle for films and filmmakers and we don’t depend on celebrity appearances and red carpet hoopla, though we’ve enjoyed some of that over the years.
We aren’t a marketing vehicle for films and filmmakers and we don’t depend on celebrity appearances and red carpet hoopla
What a filmmaker gets when they come to Sidewalk with their film, is total focus on them and their project and an audience that is intelligent and hungry to see what they have created. Beyond the screening venues, Sidewalk has made their reputation on solid organization, hospitality and audience accessibility.
For three days filmmakers show their movies, hang out with other filmmakers, mingle with audience members, party with the locals, explore Birmingham with the fest’s fab hospitality team and in the end feel like royalty on a weekend resort soiree. Can’t beat that.
What film are you most excited to see, personally, at this year’s festival? Why?
Sidewalk has always been a strong showcase for documentaries and this year in particular, with all the interesting activity in our nation’s culture and politics, the real stories have an even greater urgency. The opening night film for example is the true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team set against the background of the heart of Baltimore. Looks fascinating.
I haven’t been able to pre-screen movies as in years past but the programming team tells me to look out for The Reagan Show and Big Bear.
How has Sidewalk’s relationship with local filmmakers shifted over time?
The festival has long had a major block of programming dedicated to local filmmakers and consistently strives to integrate their work seamlessly into the rest of the weekend’s offerings, breaking down that stigma of local films versus the work of filmmakers outside the city and state.
Beyond the August main event, Sidewalk has a year round presence in the area with monthly salon programs and other outreach to the film community.
What are you doing now?
Living in Chicago while my wife gets her PhD at Northwestern. Doing my radio shows on SiriusXM for the Big80s and Classic Rewind
What do you miss most about Birmingham?
The beautiful rolling hills, hospitality and the predictable rush hours on 280 that make it a little easier to avoid.
Where will you eat on your visit home?
Probably have a little breakfast at Demetri’s in Homewood and then go to one of the newest eateries in Avondale or the Railroad Park that someone is going to point out to me. I know there will be a lot of new choices as Birmingham continues to grow.
When are you moving back? We miss you!
The future location of my family is a mystery, which is exciting, but I’ll always miss the ‘Ham as well.
Want tickets to Sidewalk? They’re on sale now! Buy a weekend pass and you’ll also be eligible to sign up for the virtual and augmented reality experience – including a mystery that adapts to your surroundings and more.