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Fun and charm of this ever-more-popular spot will add much to film festival this year

Macon Film Festival opens with fulldome film

Viewers got a trippy visual ride at the Museum of Arts and Sciences planetarium watching Diana Reichenbach “Stardancers’ Waltz.”
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Viewers got a trippy visual ride at the Museum of Arts and Sciences planetarium watching Diana Reichenbach “Stardancers’ Waltz.”

After showing their film “Fiddlin’ ” at last year’s Macon Film Festival, sisters Vicki Vlasic and Julie Simone weren’t sure how to get to Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen for an after-hours meet-up with filmmakers and festivalgoers.

“Don’t worry,” an audience member told them. “It’s just a few blocks down and around the corner. I’ll show you.”

Vlasic said along the way their guide asked them about their movie which won the festival’s Audience Choice Documentary Award and she and her sister asked him about Macon.

In a nutshell, that represents what many find appealing about Macon’s 14-year-old festival of independent films: the interaction between filmmakers and audiences in its friendly, charming and compact downtown location.

That and the 90 or so films that makers get to show and audiences get to watch.

“Macon was early in our festival showings,” Vlasic said in an email. “But it stands out in what turned out to be such a very successful year for ‘Fiddlin.’ ’ Walking around downtown and getting a feel for the city while immersing ourselves in great films was truly special. One favorite memory was going into a record store that had an incredible selection of vinyl (records) and adding to my Doc Watson vinyl collection. How perfect for a filmmaker in town with a bluegrass and old-time music documentary? Winning the audience award was icing on the cake.”

Tabitha Lynne Walker, owner of Macon’s Big Hair Productions and co-founder and programmer of the Macon festival, said downtown has always been key.

“It started as an arm of the Capitol Theater and a way to create programming for it. Then it grew and grew to other downtown venues and was part of the whole downtown renaissance. We’ve ventured into full dome and high-tech films and partnered with the Museum of Arts and Sciences, but for the most part, we’re still downtown oriented. I get comments from filmmakers and audiences how much they enjoy it here and enjoy coming back. And of course, the feedback we get from and about restaurants and businesses has always been great.”

Downtown Macon’s Josh Rogers said it’s about walkability.

“I mean, walkability is the everyday magic of downtown,” he said. “It creates a friendly connection between people going here and there, meeting for lunch, shopping, working, finding the unexpected encounter with someone and going for a bite. There are 51 restaurants and 26 bars considered downtown, then add music venues and the movie venues that are all in walking distance. It’s a good formula unparalleled in the region.”

To accommodate downtown’s regular late-night crowd not around for daytime showings, the festival is adding two presentations after 9 p.m. this year. One, a modern thriller called “Freaks,” shows Friday and the other, the cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” showed Thursday.

And because downtown is also a family place, more family-friendly films are being added as features and part of the full dome fare.

Visitors, no matter where they’re from, find it attractive.

Lisa D’Apolito gave a pre-release showing of her film “Love, Gilda” in 2018. It’s a documentary on comedian superstar Gilda Radner and has since found wide theater release, been placed on prime internet streaming platforms got showings on CNN.

It was recently nominated for two Emmys.

“I love the Macon Film Festival,” the New York-Greenwich Village native said in a phone interview. “I love Macon and I’ve made great friends there. I didn’t know what to expect when I first came down but I literally made friends the moment I arrived, ones I’ve kept. I had to be in Atlanta a while back but came to Macon for lunch. There are such friendly, nice people. There’s such a young, hip, artsy vibe I get downtown. And, of course, anybody in movies always has an eye out for filming locations and there are great locations in Macon to keep in mind.”

Filmmaker Justin O’Neal Miller has a slightly different perspective. He won’t be at the festival this year but his film, “Peggy,” is showing in the narrative shorts film block and he has shown several films previously.

Miller is away this year because he said he’s in Los Angles working as art director on Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, “Tenet,” set for release in 2020.

“My first experience downtown in Macon was when I was a skateboarder in the late 1990s,” he said. “I lived in Warner Robins and went to Houston County High School. We used to come skate downtown and a band I was in called Offcenter played around here. I just remember riding around all these facades, these derelict buildings, some with no roofs or floors. Then I come back 10 years later to show a film and it’s such a great place. It’s perfect to hang out, talk to audiences, get meals and meet up with filmmaker friends I met years ago. It fosters being together. I’m sad I can’t be there now but hopefully, I will be next year.”

The narrative shorts block shows at 5 p.m. Friday at the Douglas Theatre and at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Hargrave Capitol Theatre. Times for all festival presentations and ticketing and pass options are at maconfilmfestival.com.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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