Every spring in Austin, TX, on the heels of The SXSW Film Festival, is The Attic Film Fest (TAFF) (http://www.atticfilmfest.org/). Like SXSW, TAFF showcases some the best films from around the world. Unlike SXSW, however, TAFF focuses on faith-based Christian films. The festival also includes a Ministry Fair that highlights numerous opportunities for festival-goers to make a global impact.
Now in its fifth year, film festival director Dr. Jamee Kennedy spoke in an interview about TAFF’s humble beginnings in the attic youth room at Grace Covenant. That first year’s Best Film recipient was Binding Faith.
“Binding Faith had such a powerful impact on those that attended the fest, it was apparent that we had something that was glorifying to God. The brain cells started turning over and we decided we’d try again but this time as a real fest, with real submissions open to all filmmakers. We decided that the space we used to house the fest was really great and so the name stuck.”
This year’s festival was host to more than 400 attendees, including a high percentage of filmmakers available for Q & A’s and “meet & greets.” The opening evening Winner’s Circle Showcase included an encore performance of Binding Faith with filmmaker Dondra Vaughn on hand to field questions about her experience in making the film. The film is about a pastor who is passionate about sharing his faith, but when extremists threaten to riot, the only way he can continue to preach is if he first signs his own death warrant. (http://dondravaughn.com/Films.html)
The film slate for TAFF 2012 was impressive, with over 30 films showing in two locations. Two of this year’s biggest winners were Promised Land and Journey to Jamaa. Promised Land was awarded the 2012 Best Film, 2012 Best Documentary, and also won the 2012 Audience Favorite award. The film, directed and produced by Todd Morehead (with Bryan Jennings) of the Walking on Water organization, is a unique look at Israel through the lives of two friends from different faiths, brought together by their love of the oceans that separate them and their common love of surfing. (http://promisedlandthemovie.com) The Walking on Water organization is dedicated to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with this generation’s global surfing community.
Journey to Jamaa was awarded the 2012 Best Short, 2012 Best Technical Achievement, and 2012 Best Director awards. This film was produced by World Vision and directed by Michael Landon Jr. Journey to Jamaa, written by Brian Bird, is inspired by the real lives of Margaret and Derick, two orphaned children from Uganda who make the journey from Kampala to Kasangombe in a heartbreaking quest to overcome poverty and experience hope. They journey for miles on foot, pulling along a mysterious, large, wooden box on wheels in search of a new home and a new family. (http://journeythefilm.com)
Milltown Pride (www.milltownpride.com) is a wonderful period piece set in the middle of Prohibition-era America. The story follows Will Wright, a young baseball player who dreams of the big leagues. But in 1920’s South Carolina, the only path to pro baseball is through the local textile mill team. Against the wishes of his wealthy father, Will leaves his family and privileged life behind to work in the harsh conditions at Newton Mill. His natural talent on the field makes him the rising star of the mill-league team—and also earns him a dangerous rival.
How much will he risk for his chance at the big leagues? And when you hit rock bottom, is there any way up? Milltown Pride features top-notch acting from Thomas Sneed (Will) and Becca Kaser as Ginnie Douglas. The production by Darren Lawson is extraordinary—completely capturing the look and feel of 1920’s South Carolina, not sparing budget and using beautiful locations and historically correct sets and props.
The only drawback, being a Christian film, is a felt need to have a “preaching moment,” where one of the characters explains the message of the film to ensure the Christian message is evident. This is a complaint heard from many secular and mainstream viewers (those the filmmakers are trying to reach), and Christian filmmakers need more confidence in letting their stories tell the message and not a page of dialogue.
One great example of how this can be accomplished is in the short film from TAFF called Change for a Dollar, which has only one line of dialogue in its entire 10 minutes – but the message of the film is clear. This is one of the best films from TAFF, and it is currently available to view in its entirety on-line (http://www.shesalwayswright.com/#!cfad-video), and as of the writing of this review, the short film has amassed almost 2 million views. Director/writer Sharon Wright’s film packs a wallop in its short 10 minutes, chronicling the journey of a day in the life of a homeless man and the ways he spends his dollar’s worth of change. The film even gained the attention of Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert who says, “It touched me. Sharon Wright. Remember that name.”
The 2012 TAFF award for Best Feature went to writer/director Chad Ahrendt’s Reconciliation. Ahrendt said much of the film came from his own life experience, but is a fictionalized account of Grant Taylor, who has been troubled by intense childhood memories ever since his wife Sara became pregnant. As fatherhood nears, Grant privately wrestles with his lifetime embarrassment and anger toward his own father after he had discovered his father was homosexual.
His memories come to a head when he receives a phone call that his father is on his deathbed—where father and son are forced to deal with their pasts. This provoking film of heartache and triumph will challenge viewers to love more deeply, seek forgiveness, and forgive others. Solid acting from Eric Nenninger as Grant and Jack Maxwell as the father, and the directing is first-rate. Reconciliation is a strong film and highly recommended. (http://www.reconciliationmovie.com/)
Another great example of visual storytelling is the hilarious TAFF Family Award film Rogue Saints. This festival favorite is one the best Christian films produced, and had the audience rolling with laughter. Director Adam Lubanski does a stellar job in this film about a couple of inept would-be thieves who spend day and night digging for a one-of-a-kind diamond buried under a church—while church business continues above. A must-see film when you get the chance (to be released Fall 2012).
TAFF’s director Dr. Jamee Kennedy sees a positive future for Christian filmmaking:
“Christian film today is where Christian music was about 15 years ago. It is emerging; it is beginning to have a strong following. Unfortunately, many of the films out today are not up to par in terms of quality. The acting in most Christian films is sub industry standard. But the good news is that this is changing, growing, and getting better. TAFF is working to push the Christian filmmaking industry (because it is after all a business as well as a ministry) to be better than anything out there. There is no reason that good stories, well told, with great messages cannot come from the Christian filmmaking industry. I firmly believe that God will use the gifts, talents, and abilities of His people to do just that soon. And when He does, we will see a run-away hit that storms theaters and changes the world.”
Author’s Note: One opportunity to see several of these films is the Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival in August 2012 (http://gideonfilmfestival.com).
To get more details on any of the films mentioned above, check out the Christian Movie Database.