The Executive Director discusses Sidewalk Film Festival's upcoming expansion, stepping outside of her comfort zone, life lessons, and more.
On Stepping Outside of Her Comfort Zone
I spent the first six months at Sidewalk Film just sweating and wondering, "What am I doing here?" and "Are we going to be able to pull this off?" I don't know if that feeling has gone away entirely because we're always doing something new or trying a different approach and growing. That all brings on new challenges. I think a healthy person still has moments of self-doubt and questions whether or not they made the right decision or choice.
In terms of the festival itself as a stand-alone element of our larger organization, I have a much greater comfort with our ability as a team to pull that off today than I did when I started because this will be my 10th festival. Like any other thing, if you do it long enough, you gain a sense of comfort, but it is an event that has lots of variables. Venues open and close. The footprint of the city changes. There was sort of a playbook and we try to go by that. It didn't exist when I took the job. I thought it was going to be there in a binder on a shelf somewhere and it wasn't really. I had to learn from all of the board members and volunteers how to do things. I also just had to implement new things. All of that has kept it interesting and fun for me.
On Bouncing Back From Failure
If you are doing something well whether that's hosting a large event, hosting a series of small events, running a podcast, or posting any kind of content that the audience is seeing, oftentimes you're the only person that sees the mistakes that were made before you arrived at that finished product. They may not be aware of what your intention was, but you're aware of it. So the festival is like that where we have an idea, and we feel disappointed when we don't hit that ideal mark, but the person in the audience doesn't necessarily know what our ideals were. So that's a piece of it that I think is interesting. We sometimes consider something a failure, but our customer totally thinks it was a success.
Sometimes something gets planned and it just doesn't work, and it's nobody's fault. After a failed screening, we were all a little shy about hosting any sort of screening that was also a special event because it took a lot of energy. You've got to book a venue, get the equipment, and clear the rights to the fee which are three pieces that we do all the time. We were basically doing all of these other things on a tiny shoestring budget, so we were all like, "Oh my gosh! We worked so hard and we only had like five people watch this really great film in the freezing cold and two of them were staff members."
Everyone felt defeated. But I think when that happened, learning that that's okay has been a big lesson for me. That was six years ago, and I remember distinctly feeling bad about it for like a week or two. I thought about the lessons learned and how we could avoid that in the future. We really took that experience and gained something from it.
Lessons That She Wishes She Would've Learned Earlier
It doesn't matter at all what anybody else thinks about you and your life. It doesn't matter what kind of car you drive or where you live. You do what works for you and don't worry about anyone else and their opinion. You will benefit from that. Don't avoid the conflicts that are going to come in life. They're going to come, and you are better off to sit in that discomfort of the moment instead of being in a whirlwind of awful and uncomfortable later. Whatever is under there will come out eventually. If there had been someone to grab my shoulders and shake me until I believed that, my life might have been happier. The marriage might not have worked out in the end anyway. There's no way to predict that, but I invested all of this of energy in never complaining and always pushing through and always smiling no matter what's happening.
I never wanted to tell anybody when things weren't going great. I always had this fear that if I talked about the not great stuff, then I would be opening the door for it and letting it grow. And when you don't want that to happen, you just close the door and hope that it goes away, but it doesn't. Whatever it is whether it's work or your relationships with friends or family, it will come back until you deal with it.
At 25, I simultaneously felt like a complete adult who knew how to make it in this world and also felt like people who at 40 were just really old. But now I'm almost 40, and I'm thinking, "Oh, well maybe when I'm 65 I'll feel like this or that."
One time my mother and several of her female cousins who were all about the age that I am now were sitting around. One of them said to my great-aunt, "Aunt Jean, when am I going to start feeling like a grown-up?" She was much older at that time, and her response was, "This is it, honey! How you feel is how you feel. Who you are is who you are. If you laughed at a dirty joke when you were 20, you're going to laugh at a dirty joke when you're 85. The core of you is there, and you're waiting on this moment to be a different and more grown-up version of yourself, but you are already that grown-up version. Your job is to learn and grow. You will evolve, but it's slow."
On the Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema
I've been in Birmingham since 2000. In that 18 year span, there hasn't been a single screen dedicated to independent films. If you wanted to watch a film that wasn't one of the big blockbuster hits, then you needed to drive to Montgomery, Atlanta, or Nashville. That's been the case for almost the entire time that Sidewalk Film Festival has existed. That's part of the reason why they started the festival.
So I'm excited to fill what I feel is a genuine void in the cultural landscape of the community. It's interesting because all kinds of movie theaters are working to evolve. Everybody went 3D and then IMAX. Now you can get table service. It's ever-evolving but always centered around film. There are ebbs and flows in ticket sales for that, but interestingly ticket sales for independent films have been on the upswing. People want to go to the movies and watch some of these quieter films so that they can talk to a friend about what they just saw together. I'm glad that we are going to be able to offer that and run like a real movie theater by putting films on the screen that wouldn't normally come to Birmingham while also offering all sorts of educational programs.
Visit the Sidewalk Film Festival website for more information.
Photo Credit: Jaysen Michael