Welcome to American Gritland. As a film festival director and programmer for over 25 years, my greatest pleasures remain finding great films to show, working to attract and engage audiences across all communities, and provide greater exposure for deserving filmmakers. And having grown up outside Cincinnati, the country’s southernmost northern city and northernmost southern city (along with Kentucky family roots), I’ve always been especially interested in films originating from the America between the West and East Coasts.
Living in Nashville for eight years, after spending more than double that in the San Francisco Bay Area, and working with many southern-based filmmakers reignited that interest. And it wasn’t just the films. Both Julie Alexander, born in Alabama and raised near San Francisco, and I became fascinated with the dynamics of southern life while living with them: the friendliness, the growing racial diversity (Hispanics, Muslims, Somalis, Kurds, etc.) and the sometimes lagging tolerance, the beauty, the barbecue, the mud pies, lingering pre-Civil Rights era attitudes, the reach of the Bible Belt, the Civil War (still being fought), the old boy political network, the musical roots of our country, religious rights vs. LGBT rights, NASCAR, football, Jack Daniels, and how all this influences everyone, natives and non-natives alike.
From this experience we are launching American Gritland. Originally conceived as Grits 'n' Gravy, a sidebar celebrating Southern culture that played to enthusiastic audiences at London’s East End Film Festival in 2010, 2013 and 2014, we feel that, given everything that has happened on these shores in the past year or so, a package also encompassing various issues in these areas is essential. We program films that may have played in various film festivals across the US but have received minimal or no exposure outside these borders. We want these films to be seen in various cities and towns of all sizes, whether at local theaters, film festivals or other settings.
So just what makes for a good “Southern” or “Midwestern” film? For American Gritland we seek out films from these regions where the land, the history, and/or local culture and mindset play a significant role alongside memorable characters: films such as Cook County, which immerses us in a small-town East Texas meth-addicted community; Beth Harrington’s The Winding Stream, the passionate, enriching musical legacy of Virginia’s Carter Family (and, through marriage, Johnny Cash); Jon Watts’ AKA Blondie, an unforgettable portrait of legendary Atlantic exotic dancer Blondie Savage; and Craig Brewer’s landmark The Poor & Hungry, where the street and eccentric characters of Memphis play a role in the story of a car thief and the woman with whom he falls in love. Other favorites over the years include Malcolm Ingram’s small town gay bar, Les Blank’s films (Always For Pleasure especially), Marco Williams’ Banished, Debra Granik's Stray Dog, Tony Buba’s Lightning Over Braddock and Victor Nuñez’s Ruby in Paradise. Major studios can come up with a good one, too, such as Alexander Payne’s Nebraska.
Whether or not your impressions of the South and Midwest have been filtered through Hollywood product or the news, AMERICAN GRITLAND will provide more accurate, in-depth points of view. You may be surprised by the variety of accents, the diversity of attitudes, and for that matter, the ebbing and flowing of past history that never really went away. On that note, these films will not perpetuate stereotypes. We look for complex characters and real life people, whether he/she is an upright person, someone in out of trouble, an outcast finding a place in the world or someone striving to break free of permeating attitudes.
We are currently at work assembling the inagural 2020 program...please contact us here to receive notices of film updates and other news. Thank you for your interest!
If you are a filmmaker: AMERICAN GRITLAND is a curated program and has no call for submissions, but if you are interested in our considering your film, whether a short or feature, please go to our Submissions page.
If you are interested in having AMERICAN GRITLAND play at your theater, your local film festival, or in some other context, please contact us.