Atlanta Film Festival pivots to virtual, drive-in screenings

Despite facing challenges because of COVID-19, the show will go on.

For the first time in its history, the Atlanta Film Festival will be presented not in movie theaters around town but on three drive-in movie screens and online, due to the pandemic. Originally scheduled to open in April, the 44th annual event launches Sept. 17 with “Stomping Ground,” a collection of short films by local filmmakers at Dad’s Garage Drive-In.

“Filmmakers have been super excited about the thought of seeing their movies on a drive-in screen or at least knowing it’s happening if they can’t join us,” said Alyssa Armand, the festival’s director of programming. “There’s something so nostalgic about picturing your film on a drive-in screen. I think a lot of filmmakers wouldn’t have been able to experience this without the festival.”

Screenings will be held at the Plaza Drive-In, Dad’s Garage Drive-In and Pratt-Pullman Yard, a former industrial site in Kirkwood where munitions were manufactured during World War I and train cars were repaired. Now it’s a popular film location and currently slated for a mixed-use development.

“That one’s unique because it’s indoors at a warehouse. It’s fully ventilated with a roof,” said Armand.

The festival lineup hasn’t changed much from its original incarnation created before the pandemic. It spans 11 days and features about 140 films, including narrative, documentary and animated shorts; full-length features and documentaries; experimental films; and music videos. There are entries from more than 40 countries, and 20% of the films have a local connection — they’re either filmed in Georgia or made by filmmakers from Georgia.

Armand couldn’t identify any specific trends among this year’s selection of films, but she said it was noteworthy how much the world has changed since the flims were chosen.

“For the first time, we programmed (the festival) eight months before it happened. It’s interesting to see how some of the context of the films have changed … and how some of our films feel more relevant than ever,” she said.

Most films can be viewed both at a drive-in and online, although some are available exclusively in one format or the other.

Accompanying the festival is the 10th annual Creative Conference, a five-day educational program for filmmakers featuring 40 panels that will be presented online only.

Here are five movies The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recommends.

“In the Cold Dark Night”

This documentary co-directed by Stephen Robert Morse and Nick Hampson takes an unflinching look at the racially motivated murder of Timothy Coggins, a 23-year-old black man who was stabbed and dragged behind a vehicle by two white men in 1983 in Griffin, 40 miles south of Atlanta. At the time of the murder, law enforcement made little effort to solve the crime. But 35 years later, Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix made it his mission to find the killers and bring them to justice. Coggins' surviving siblings make compelling interview subjects, and Hank Klibanoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former AJC managing editor, provides historical context. A drive-in exclusive.

7:55 p.m., Sept. 18, Dad’s Garage Drive-In

“The Outside Story”

Best known as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in the FX series “Atlanta,” Brian Tyree Henry stars in this lighthearted comedy about a sad sack named Charles. The aspiring director who edits memorial compilation videos on aging celebrities in anticipation of their deaths for TCM has recently been dumped by his girlfriend in part because he never leaves the Brooklyn apartment they once shared. But when he accidentally gets locked out, he discovers a rich world of quirky characters right under his nose. Directed by Casimir Nozkowski.

9:15 p.m., Sept. 21, Pratt-Pullman Yard

“What’s Eating Ralphie May?”

What started as a documentary to chronicle comedian Ralphie May’s effort to reduce his 800-pound girth through diet and surgery becomes a memorial look back at his short life when he dies from cardiac arrest in 2017 at age 45 following a performance at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. During the course of the film directed by Cat Rhinehart, the comedian decides to forgo surgery, abuses pain pills, has an emotional breakdown and watches his marriage to fellow comedian Lahna Turner unravel. It is a raw poignant look at the depths of addiction.

7:40 p.m., Sept. 24, Dad’s Garage Drive-In

“Fandango at the Wall”

Coproduced by Andrew Young, this inspiring documentary introduces masters of son jarocho, a folk music style originating in Veracruz, Mexico, that combines African and Latino traditions. It culminates with a group performance at Fandango Fronterizo, an annual music and dance festival held simultaneously in San Diego and Tijuana, on both sides of the wall between Mexico and the U.S. There are also scenes from a formal concert of son jarocho music performed in New York by the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Directed by Varda Bar-Kar. The film will debut on HBO in late September.

9:30 p.m., Sept. 24, Plaza Drive-In

“For the Love of Rutland”

Simmering tensions over class, culture, refugee resettlement and politics threaten to boil over in this documentary about an economically depressed, blue-collar town in Vermont plagued by poverty and addiction. “'For the Love of Rutland' isn’t explicitly about the election or politics, but it feels relevant to an election year,” said Armand. Directed by Jennifer Maytorena Taylor.

7:40 p.m., Sept. 27, Dad’s Garage Drive-In


Atlanta Film Festival. Sept. 17-27. $15-$50, drive-in screenings. $9.99, virtual screenings and Creative Conference events. $50, unlimited virtual screenings or Creative Conference events. $75, unlimited screenings and events. Plaza Drive-In, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. Dad’s Garage Drive-In, 569 Ezzard St., Atlanta. Pratt-Pullman Yard, 225 Rogers St., Atlanta. 470-296-0170,