It’s the crowds, the parking and the navigating through downtown Birmingham that keeps me from going. My wife, Amber, receives all these notifications about upcoming concerts in the area. She will be in the other room with our laptop, and I will hear something like, “Hey, Todd Snider is coming to Birmingham.”
“You wanna get tickets?!?”
“Oh, God no.”
During every concert I’ve attended, rather than enjoying the performance, I’ve always worried about the drunks behind me, my car getting stolen or the massive crowds funneling into the exits. And lets be honest, anyone who plans an outdoor concert in the middle of summer in Alabama should be punched in the face.
Despite all that, I have fancied going to the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival for several years. Sure I worried about parking, crowds and street con artists like I would any metropolitan event, but the thought of three straight days of movies made me salivate. Despite how cool it sounded, though, I would let the weekend slip by every fall.
With Amber pregnant this year, Sidewalk was as far from my mind as molecular biology. So when my boss, Eagle Managing Editor James Phillips, mentioned the festival three days before it was set to open, I sighed like some old man who 20 years ago decided not to invest in Apple computers.
James looked at me and said, “you want me to see if I can get you press credentials.”
Now, he said it as I walked out of his office and I had to whip around to see if he was serious. For real, I could cover Sidewalk.
Getting the press pass was no problem, but, as if some cruel joke by fate, I honestly didn’t have time to go on Friday or Saturday. I had to work late on Friday and couldn’t make it to Birmingham before the start of any films. Also, Amber was leaving for a conference in Las Vegas at the sadistic hour of 6:15 a.m. Sunday. To get to the airport an hour before the plane was to take off meant we would have to wake up at 3:30 in the a.m. With my regular work schedule (usually 1 to 9 p.m.), there was little point in even going to sleep.
I finally settled on a plan: go to bed before the sun sets Saturday evening, send my 7-month-pregnant wife off to the city of sin early Sunday morning and then launch a cinematic blitzkrieg afterwards.
As you could have probably guessed I didn’t end up going to bed super early Saturday night. I think I finally dozed off around 12:30 a.m., and Amber and I were up so early Starbucks was not open yet. I feel that bears repeating. I was up so early Starbucks was not open yet.
I said goodbye to Amber at 5:30 a.m., and I think we were both too tired to be sad. I also still had enough time to drive back to the Starbucks before it opened.
After killing some time, I headed downtown to the festival. I had barely gotten off the interstate before I started feeling that all-to-familiar anxiety. I was sure it would take hours to navigate my way to the Alabama Theater and then several more to find parking.
But you know what, it didn’t. Sure I had to double back once or twice, but that was because of my own stupidity rather than the logistics of the festival. They even had parking just a stone’s throw from the Alabama. It was seven bucks, but at least it was there.
The first film I saw was a documentary about a massive housing project in St. Louis called Pruitt-Igoe. The movie, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,” detailed the social, political, racial and economic factors that led to the degradation of it and many other public housing complexes.
I also saw a documentary called “Where Soldiers Come From” at the Alabama Theater. The movie follows this tight-knit group of high-school friends who join the National Guard and wind up in Afghanistan. The filmmakers got unparalleled access to the Guardsmen’s day-to-day jobs, but the most striking thing was the portrait of the crew of friends. They all came from upper Michigan, which is about as far from Jasper as you can get. But they reminded me so much of the group of friends I had during high school.
In between the movies I walked along 4th Avenue South and, though I probably looked like a premier hillbilly, I snapped photos of all the brick buildings, fire escapes and old business signs.
I even got to tour the building that houses the Lyric Theater, which an area group is trying to get restored. Though almost every inch of the place had peeling paint, gutted light fixtures and dusty wood, you could still see the immense beauty just below the surface. It was like looking at some vintage hot rod that had sat unused for a decade or two. If you squinted a little, you can see all that it was and all it could be again.
Given the heat and my three hours of sleep, I didn’t stay for two other documentaries I wanted to see. Regardless, I left feeling so grateful I had said yes to the assignment despite the crazy weekend I had ahead of me. Sometimes you have to take a chance on something.
I wonder if it’s too early to inquire about press credentials for next year.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org