Programmer Profile: Rachel Morgan, Sidewalk Film Festival

Rachel Morgan has a nightmare featuring Robert Englund.

My name: Rachel Morgan

My current festival: Sidewalk Film Festival

My title: Lead Programmer

Other film-related organizations I've worked for: I wrote reviews for Film Threat very briefly and interned with New Line Cinema during my undergrad film studies. Everything else is broadcast/film related academia and advertising, so I won’t bore you.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: Halloween (1978), Birth (2004), Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) (2007), Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970), Modern Love Is Automatic (2009), American Movie (1999), Foxes (1980), Valley Girl (1983).

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Cage fight, free walk, clog, participate in competitive eating, attend slumber parties, eat sushi and shop at the mall, visit Renaissance Festivals and, of course, go to pizza parties.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: General Orders No. 9, though we weren’t the first festival to program it. Kyle (McKinnon, my programming partner) and I actually caught a screening of it at the 2009 Atlanta Film Festival and were both all like ‘what an amazing film, too bad we can’t program it in Birmingham’, as it is certainly not an easy film by any stretch. But it stuck with us and I/we eventually got to a place where I/we couldn’t imagine not programming it. I love how meditative the film is. I think it’s a true work of art. For me it serves as a love letter and a note of apology to what is lost and will never be recovered and that is intensely sad. It’s not a film that is very kind to humans and I suppose it makes sense why some people are so put off by it. I think it’s a really important experimental documentary and certainly a truly Southern work that can have quite a bit of difficulty in regards to interpretation. While it certainly has its influences, as a whole, I’ve really never seen anything quite like it. A great film and one that Kyle and I were very proud to bring to Birmingham and see screen in the extremely beautiful historic Alabama Theatre. We were also very proud of last year’s opening night film, Best Worst Movie. For us, in Birmingham it is such a risk to program a documentary for opening night, but we just kept coming back to how incredible, funny and strangely relevant the film is. We decided to program with out hearts and not our minds… as cheesy as that sounds. So opening night, standing on the stage looking out at a nearly sold out crowd of 2,200 seats and then seeing the audiences incredible response to the film was beyond awesome.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: It’s a super relaxed festival, people don’t really attend Sidewalk to hustle their film, so I think everyone has a chance to hang out and have a lot of fun. We always work hard to have an eclectic mix of people in attendance every year and we throw some awesome parties. I don’t want to brag, but I’d also say we have some really diverse and interesting programming, We don’t program for political reasons and that can be a good and a bad thing for a festival, but I think it’s the right thing to do and it certainly helps to establish a strong line-up.

At Sidewalk you can walk to all of the venues and we have some really unique ones, plus we’re not in a multiplex which is a combination that I think makes the festival a lot more fun. Also, one of the venues is the aforementioned famous Alabama Theatre, the most beautiful theatre in the United States; you really have to see it to believe it.

Our festival audience has come to expect: That’s a difficult one. I’d say our screening committee (who are also part of our audience) have come to expect to be surprised by at least a couple of our (Kyle and I) choices. The audience, at this point, has come to expect a couple of stellar later night horror screenings and in general, I think they’ve come to not know exactly what to expect, but perhaps to expect to be pleasantly surprised (I hope).

We program the following categories of films: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Short Narratives and Docs, Children’s Films, Animated shorts and features, student films (narratives, shorts and docs). We also accept experimental films of all kinds though we don’t have a specific category for such.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: As I’m sure that you’re hearing from many folks, with the advent of home video editing software programs like iMovie, there is a trend in everyone thinking that they are a filmmaker and certainly not everyone is. I started to go on a long rant about such, but then used my delete key; I think I’d better just leave it at that.

Of course whenever there is a major event we get tons of docs related to the event. A lot of the films are really good, but the subject is exhausted and often times you have to consider how much an audience can take. You hate to seem insensitive, but you just can’t have, for example, the Hurricane Katrina Film Festival (I suppose that comment itself was insensitive, my apologies).

Other than that, we just recently opened our call for entries, so who knows; last year was a mixed bag. I’m really glad that the mockumentary thing has slowed down, but for a while it was about every 12th film and so rarely are they decent.

For a really boring response: I believe DVD stock has gotten super crappy – lots of faulty DVD screeners, it seems to increase every year. [See related article about the effect of paper labels on DVD performance. -Ed.]

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: Shorts are good short. 21 – 35 minute shorts are so hard to place and they have to be really strong for us to fit them it to the line-up.

Send pizza.

The submissions period for our next festival is (please indicate start and end date): Now! Our first deadline was March 15th and our last is April 15th.

Filmmakers can contact me here:

Last words:, see you in September!