Friday, April 11, 2008

Atlanta Film Festival 2008 - Opening Night

The Atlanta Film Festival 2008 was launched at the Regal Atlantic Station 16 on Thursday, April 10th. This is my second year attending, and what a difference that year has made! Last year's opening feels like a distant memory, compared to the smooth, swift and polished event that IMAGE Film and Video produced tonight. The Red Carpet arrivals were expertly and punctually shepherded by Charles Judson and Bo Shurling. (Southern Screen Report was represented by Gloria Stanley on interviews and myself on photography. I am now paparazzi!) Perhaps a key to this year's event was that the audience and special guests were there for the FILM and not so much for the "happening".

At curtain time (the organization met it at the impressive mark of only ten minutes late!), Executive Director Gabriel Wardell greeted the crowd with some atypically pithy remarks! He introduced a new member of the IMAGE Board, Scott Safon, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer of CNN Worldwide, which also happens to be one of the major sponsors of the festival. As a representative of Turner Communications, Mr. Safon reiterated Turner's support of this years programming. This was then followed by this year's fairly impressive festival trailer, which preceded the world premiere screening of THE LENA BAKER STORY.

THE LENA BAKER STORY (dir. Ralph Wilcox, US, 2008, 100 mins.) Ralph Wilcox's debut feature takes on the life story of Lena Baker, the only woman to have been executed in Georgia. It is a period drama, taking place between 1910 and 1944, where she was basically enslaved by the man whom she would kill in self defense. His screenplay starts off a bit rough, as the film has a bookend of Baker in prison, and then flashes back to her childhood, which is presented in two segments. Those three steps before we actually get to the meat of Baker's life act as a bit of an extended prologue and staggers the pace of the opening 15 minutes or so. There is an awkward naivety to Wilcox's beginning that does not necessarily work in the film's favor, except in emphasizing the later tragedy. However, once Tichina Arnold takes control of the screen as the adult Lena Baker, the dramatic momentum heats up, the emotional pacing resolves itself and, with the outstanding chemistry she has with Beverly Todd as her mother, we are in good hands!

Tichina Arnold's performance requires a great deal of emotional territory that is not necessarily fully explored in the screenplay. There is no exploration of her father (absent or not), nor her fear of alcohol, which was part of the torture by her captor (played with a delicious wit by Peter Coyote!). I bring up the absence of the father, as I think that might have played into her submission to Coyote's character. However, that is a minor quibble, that is made even more trivial as her scenes while awaiting execution are extraordinary.

Present at the screening were Ralph Wilcox, director, writer, and producer of the film, the principal performers, Tichina Arnold, Beverly Todd, Michael Rooker and Chris Burns. The film was also accompanied by executive producers Barton Rice and Charles Rice and the film's composer, Todd Cochran, and Lela Bond Phillips and Karan Pittman who wrote the book upon which the screenplay is based.

Wilcox filmed the production in Colquitt, Georgia, and post-production was also completed in Atlanta, as it was produced by the Southwest Film Commission's Jokara-Micheaux Film, Television, and Music Production Studio. Wilcox was exceptionally moved and grateful during the post-screening Q&A. He was also proud to announce that “Lena Baker” will be screened at the Cannes Market, on May 16, which is the "marketplace" during the Cannes Film Festival.

The screening was followed up with a nice, little reception at the IMAGE F&V headquarters at the Contemporary Gallery.

Maxxxxx says
re THE LENA BAKER STORY: "Such a good bird!"

No comments: