Underground Atlanta is bringing the lights, camera and action to this month’s First Friday celebration. On Sept. 1, Underground Atlanta is partnering with Audio_Video_Club and Kristan Woolford in a joint effort of cinematic vision to showcase and support local Atlanta filmmakers by hosting FilmCon.
FilmCon will offer an engaging platform for emerging filmmakers like Brittany E. Walton, Morgan Matthews, Lanese Love, Vicente Varela-Gomez, Esther Jane Lord, Naima Cooper and others to showcase their talents.
Bianca Cato, Founder and Executive Director of Audio_Video_Club, expressed, “We are a projector and screen, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating the art of film and the local filmmakers. AVC is very excited about the partnership with Underground Atlanta’s First Fridays to elevate a few locals and their film creations.”
In the midst of the film strike, many directors, producers and actors have turned to independent, self-funded films. FilmCon aims to showcase the art and hard work these individuals have been able to accomplish despite circumstances in the film industry.
“Each First Friday, we aim to curate a vibrant part of the Atlanta art scene,” Lyle Baldes, Director of Special Events at Lalani Ventures, said. “With our friends in the film industry on an extended strike, we knew it was time to focus on film and the world around it.”
Elizabeth Peña, creative marketing and media director for the Underground Atlanta First Friday events, shared how FilmCon aims to uplift local Atlantan filmmakers. “The theme for First Friday’s event comes at a pivotal time for film as most of the workers, many who call Atlanta home, are currently either in a stand-off with production studios as actors and writers, or the thousands of crew members who are being forced to find work elsewhere, as a return date to work has not yet been solidified,” Peña said. “Currently, independent production companies and filmmakers that aren’t affiliated with the AMPTP are allowed to film with SAG-AFTRA actors during the strike.”
As music and art cover the streets of Georgia, and in Atlanta specifically, film continues to spread its roots, too. Last year, the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) announced that the film industry recorded a blockbuster year in Georgia.
During fiscal year 2021, the film and television industry set a new record with $4 billion in direct spending on productions in the state. During that year, 366 productions were filmed in the state, represented by 21 feature films, 45 independent films, 222 television and episodic productions, 57 commercials, and 21 music videos. With lower production and studio costs in Georgia, the state continues to become the “Hollywood of the South.”
While the industry keeps taking hit after hit, from COVID to strikes, events like FilmCon hope to bring eyes to these independent productions that have persevered regardless of the cards they’ve been dealt. While some of the filmmaker participants are new to the scene, others are well-established and can inspire audiences and film newcomers alike.
“While many of the filmmakers who will be showcasing their work during FilmCon are just getting their feet wet, there are a couple who have received notable awards and recognition,” Peña said. “Brittany E. Walton and Morgan Mathews. Brittany owns her own production studio, LAIKI, and her first feature-length screenplay, Peace In The Valley, won Best Drama Feature Length Screenplay at the Atlanta Women’s Film Festival. Morgan’s short film, Half-Day, achieved success during its festival run and will soon be streaming on Xfinity this fall.”
FilmCon attendees are also encouraged to explore the spaces founded by EuGene Byrd III (FUTURE GALLERY + Railroad), Mike Stasny (MOM SAID ITS FINE), Carl Janes (The Inner Space), Maria McDowell (Emmcdee Gallery) and Tyree Smith (ARTlanta Gallery) in which Underground Atlanta has curated for a dynamic viewing experience.
“FilmCon” will begin at 9 p.m. in the Fountain’s Plaza and throughout all of Underground Atlanta on Lower Alabama Street. Since its inception, First Friday has hosted thousands of art lovers and those who are curious about Underground Atlanta’s recent revival. After the performance and throughout the night, attendees are treated to DJs, live performances, an artist market, live painting, as well as several food and drink options. Guests are encouraged to RSVP for the free event on Eventbrite.
Read more about Underground Atlanta, FilmCon participants, and Underground Atlanta’s residence artists below:
Underground Atlanta has long been the cultural heart of Downtown Atlanta. With historic roots dating back to the 1900s, this arts, entertainment, and retail district spans multiple levels and four city blocks. In 2020, Lalani Ventures purchased Underground with a vision to restore and revitalize this iconic destination. Bordered by Pryor, Central, Wall, and Alabama Streets and connected to the Five Points MARTA, Underground Atlanta is a central, accessible space that will house local restaurants, entertainment and exhibition spaces, and galleries with a special focus on immersive art experiences. With a new and visionary team at the helm and the support and enthusiasm of the Downtown community, Underground will once again reflect and enhance the vibrancy of the city we call home. Follow along on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter.
Underground Atlanta artist studios are neighbors with concepts and venues such as the MJQ Concourse, moving to the former site of Dante’s Down the Hatch, will have its second coming when MJQ officially reopens their new location in 2024; YELLE Beauty, a Black woman-owned and operated beauty concept by Yandy Smith-Harris; Dancing Crepes, a new dining concept also by Yandy Smith-Harris; Daiquiriville, a 2,200 square-foot indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with karaoke and other entertainment, owned and operated by Colombian-native Luisa Duran; and Peach Museum, an 18+ adult-themed, selfie experience, curated by the founders of the Original Selfie Museum.
Lalani Ventures at Underground Atlanta has also welcomed Common Grounds Coffee Shop, an eclectic cafe with a community-minded atmosphere; Dolo’s Pizza Co, a classic pizza joint with a Caribbean twist; Atlanta Comedy Theatre, Underground’s premier upscale comedy club venue; Future Showbar and Restaurant, a 14,000-square-foot, two-story LGBTQ restaurant and bar; and iScream Ice Cream, an old-time ice cream parlor with modern edge desserts.
In addition, The Masquerade, the famed Atlanta music and events venue and staple in the city’s history, is also located in Underground Atlanta.
A nonprofit based in Atlanta, Audio_Video_Club provides a platform for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their work at our local community events and screenings. It’s an opportunity to put yourself out there, test your market audience and get feedback/practice with showcasing your projects. Follow AVC on social media through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or visit their website at audiovideoclub.org.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Stone Mountain, Ga., Woolford is a commission-based digital artist whose work seeks to synthesize the original pillars of Hip Hop culture with Social Justice themes. Their background in documentary filmmaking inspires video collages of Afrofuturist and Afrosurrealist narratives.
Woolford is a Film Post Production Professor of Practice at Georgia State University, a high school film instructor at The New School Atlanta, and a Teaching Artist with re:imagine/ATL, where they work to train Atlanta’s future generation of digital creators. They are a 2023 Atlanta Contemporary Nexus Fund Grantee recipient, a featured artist in Comfiart’s Design + Muse signature program, and in the 2023-2024 Midtown Alliance Heart of The Arts cohort as the inaugural Studio Artist in Residence at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). Woolford is a proud alumnus of The Creatives Project Studio residency program, C4 Atlanta’s Hatch. Follow Woolford on social media on Instagram or connect on LinkedIn. Visit their website at kristanwoolford.com.
Brittany E. Walton
Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, Brittany started her journey into the entertainment industry as a production assistant on shows such as “The Wonder Years,” “Atlanta” and “Your Worst Nightmare.” Carrying the knowledge gained from those experiences, Walton decided to create her own production company. In 2016, LAIKI Productions was born.
Since then, she has produced, written and directed several short films, web series and music videos. Her work has been screened at the Georgia Shorts Film Festival, the Montgomery Film Festival, and the Southern Shorts Awards. In 2020, Walton was selected to participate in MPI’s Moving Picturecraft Cinematography Workshop. Additionally, her first feature-length screenplay, “Peace In The Valley,” won Best Drama Feature Length Screenplay at the Atlanta Women’s Film Festival. Walton’s hope as a filmmaker is to represent the achievements, complexity, influence and struggles of minorities through authentic, visual storytelling.
Film: “Daija & Miles”
Morgan is an Atlanta-based writer-director whose artistic roots are deeply connected to the Bay Area. With a diverse body of work that encompasses both narrative and non-fiction filmmaking, Morgan is passionate about seamlessly bridging the realms of imagination and reality. His creative endeavors traverse various genres and formats, all driven by an unyielding pursuit to create visual love letters for Black men on inward journeys to process a spectrum of circumstances.
In recent years, Morgan’s journey has garnered recognition for projects in development, becoming a finalist for the Film Independent Amplifier Fellowship, the Rainin Grant, and the Ida B. Wells Fund. His dedication and vision have also earned him artist-in-residence positions at SFFILM’s FilmHouse from 2020-2022, where he honed his craft and wrote two feature-length projects.
Among his notable achievements, Morgan’s short film, “Half-Day,” achieved success during its festival run, engaging audiences at Palm Springs, BlackStar (nominated for Best Short), SFFILM (special jury award winner) and ABFF. Its impact will continue to resonate as the film finds a wider audience through its upcoming streaming release on Xfinity, beginning in the Fall of 2023.
A Mexican-American storyteller from Atlanta. Whether it’s photography or film, Varela-Gomez prides himself on using both mediums to tell stories inspired by his upbringing, often through a surrealist lens.
An Atlanta-based director and cinematographer who finds joy in blending genres and mediums of film. With a focus on horror and surrealism, they explore imaginative visuals and themes from a unique perspective as a black queer person.
Esther Jane Lord
Jane Lord was born and raised right outside of Atlanta. Early in life, she had an interest in film, often making short videos with her brothers and sisters. Her early education consisted of homeschooling. She later went on to attend Georgia State University. These different experiences gave her a unique outlook on the world of film. She has strong family bonds, and these bonds inspire her writing and filmmaking.
Films: “Nurse” and “Guitar Hero”
Cooper is a writer, filmmaker, and black feminist with a passion for storytelling and facilitating radically honest conversations that foster increased understanding, compassion and collective healing.
Film: “Free People”
Michael “MIKE” Stasny is an artist and musician who works in the sculptural realm. Michael is associated with a variety of art collectives, including the Dashboard Co-op, Goat Farm Art Center, and Knock Knock. He is also the founder of Sumptuary, an ongoing arts funding practice that supports, presents and promotes artists’ experience through non-commodifiable projects through “taxation” on consumables.
FUTURE + RAILROAD GALLERY
EuGene Byrd III is an artist that draws inspiration from life experiences and the people around him. The style and themes portrayed in his art can best be described as realism and romantic. He illustrates quintessential aspects of the Black experience in an effort to preserve Black culture, telling stories that are often overlooked or demonized. Curating the Future Gallery, Eugene brings life and art to Upper Alabama and recently opened the Railroad Gallery in Lower Alabama.
ARTlanta’s Tyree Smith, who also sits on the Marta En Route Art Council, serves as VP Chair on the Fort Mac Public Art Council and is a 2018 jury panelist for Art on the BeltLine continues to lead the way in bringing interactive art experiences to Atlanta. “I wanted to connect the people of Atlanta directly to art, free of political or personal agendas,” Smith said. “Life is art, and art has become the new Atlanta. What better way to play and explore a multi-sensory playground than through an art fair.”
Maria McDowell is a photographer, curator, philanthropist, and artist living in Atlanta and curator of the vibrant Emmcdee Gallery — a place where people can come to share their lives, celebrations, performances, exhibitions, networking events and collaborations.
From a childhood living in different cultures and in different parts of the World, Carl Janes has developed a global eye and an acute understanding of our human connection. Through a disciplined pursuit that follows current interests, he constantly explores new ways of communicating within a continued development at the Inner Space gallery at Underground.