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By Matt Rodriguez

2015 Macon Film Festival: Celebrating 10 Years with Special Guest, Burt Reynolds

“Georgia hasn’t let me down, and it sure didn’t tonight,” Burt Reynolds said in front of a sold out crowd at the Douglass Theatre in Macon, GA.


The 2015 Macon Film Festival guest of honor was present to introduce a special screening of the 1972’s classic, Deliverance, and to answer fan questions in a Q&A after the film. It was just one of many highlights over the 4-day festival, which was celebrating its notable 10th anniversary.


As an Atlanta native, Burt’s words rang true for myself as well. Not only was it my first time attending the Macon Film Festival, it was my first time visiting Macon in general despite having driven through the southern city many times on my way to Savannah and never really giving it much thought. After spending four days in the heart of downtown Macon watching films and listening to filmmakers, I can agree with Burt; the Macon Film Festival sure didn’t let me (and plenty of other film enthusiasts) down in the slightest.


What sets the Macon Film Festival apart from other festivals is its homely quality. The entire festival takes place downtown on Cherry St. and the surrounding area. On one end you have the Cox Capitol Theatre and on the other the Douglass, with specialty shops and restaurants packed in between or hidden down alleyways. The close proximity of everything makes it an extremely walkable festival as you’re never more than five minutes away from a screening or event.


The film lineup this year was fantastic, too. I managed to see 15 different features over the four days covering most every genre and format possible including narrative, documentary, music, animation, and student shorts. The majority of what I saw was good, but there were a few standouts.


My favorite of the festival had to be Frame by Frame, a captivating documentary by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli about four Afghan photojournalists rebuilding the media in Afghanistan after the Taliban regime’s ban on taking pictures in the country was removed. I wanted to see the film when it premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival earlier this year, but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to see it in Macon.


Frame by Frame is one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this year. It’s a documentary that lets its subject matter do the talking. There’s not much fancy editing, just beautifully shot images and incredible stories being told about the life of photojournalists in Afghanistan. If you ever have the opportunity to watch the film, do so. You won’t regret it.


Another film that left an impression was Our Life in Make Believe, a low-budget film from Christopher James Lang. It was one of the first films I saw on Thursday and also one of the best. The film follows Devon, a young girl who has been hitchhiking across the South when she meets Zander, a guy who is driving his girlfriend’s car up north to Boston. The two form an unlikely friendship, but their own pasts prevent them from becoming close. It’s a wonderfully written script filled with humor and drama, and amazing performances delivered by Amanda Todisco and Joseph Bearor.


From low-budget films, to high quality Oscar contenders, that’s the kind of submissions you see at the Macon Film Festival. What I liked most about the festival was that each film was played twice, giving pass holders the opportunity to see a film in case they missed it the first time around. I was able to see so many more films this way. It was great not having to worry about sacrificing to see one movie over another.


While there were plenty of films from around the world, a lot of the films were either from local filmmakers or shot in Georgia. It’s no surprise. Georgia is now ranked third in film production in the U.S. behind Louisiana and California. Macon itself has been home to multiple films including Wise Blood, 42, and Need for Speed. The small town is clearly leaving a big mark on Hollywood.


I closed out the Macon Film Festival with a press conference with Burt Reynolds with other members of the media before a special screening of Sharky’s Machine, which he both directed and starred in. It was a fitting conclusion to a fantastic weekend.


“I always have a good time when I’m here,” Reynolds said in response to what it’s been like while visiting Macon. “I’ve always said that Georgia has been my good luck state. I think I’ve made 10 or 11 movies here, and it’s been wonderful … I hope I do you proud.”